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Underground charcoal trade in the GCC is ‘funding terror’

Bahrain News
Sat, 11 Aug 2018
Raji Unnikrishnan

SMUGGLED charcoal being sold in the GCC is generating up to $10 million per year to fund terrorist groups like East Africa-based Al Shabaab, it has emerged.

The extent of charcoal smuggling from Somalia could leave the country with no trees by the end of 2060 and in turn lead to drought and famine, warned experts during a conference held in Bahrain.

The inaugural conference on Combating the Illicit Smuggling of Charcoal was held at the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) headquarters in Juffair, where participants agreed on unifying efforts to facilitate information sharing and training.

“With the majority of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries being present, the aim of the conference was to identify potential methods to disrupt the illicit trade in charcoal emanating from Somalia,” said a CMF statement.

“It is estimated that terrorist organisations such as Al Shabaab earn in the region of $10 million per year by smuggling charcoal from Somalia, which is often marketed as legitimate charcoal to buyers in GCC countries.”

International reports have warned that Somalia was slowly turning into a desert due to the loss of an estimated 8.2 million trees between 2011 and 2017 alone.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) placed a complete ban on the export of charcoal from Somalia in 2012, while in 2014 it gave authorisation for member states to inspect vessels suspected to be carrying charcoal from Somalia in violation of the ban.

“This is to seize and dispose of the illicit cargo and to divert the vessels to a port for such disposal,” added the CMF statement.

“There are multiple nuances in enforcing any UNSCR, and for charcoal this includes considerations such as safe disposal and avoiding environmental damage.”

However, UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (UNSEMG) natural resources expert Dr Charles Cater warned that if the issue was not addressed properly then it could lead to the resurfacing of piracy in the region.

“A further issue with the scale of charcoal smuggling is that, on current usage and smuggling, it is estimated that there will be no trees left in Somalia by the year 2060,” he added.

“This will leave the country prone to drought and famine, leading to both an environmental and humanitarian disaster.

“While CMF, the European Union Naval Force and other international partners’ efforts have suppressed piracy from Somalia, further economic hardship would increase the incentives for Somali piracy to resurface.

“The monitoring group looks forward to further co-operation with CMF towards improved implementation of the charcoal ban in order to diminish and disrupt Al Shabaab financing.”

The GDN reported in June that no incidents of piracy were registered in the Arabian Gulf during the first four months of the year.

However, Combined Force Task (CTF) 151 commander Japanese Rear Admiral Daisuke Kajimato cautioned that piracy remained a threat to the region as long as its root causes were not eradicated.

CTF 151 is a Bahrain-based coalition tasked with combating piracy in areas such as the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin.

“We are ready to provide support to all countries to find ways in which we can work to stop the illegal charcoal trade,” said CTF152 commander Captain Abullah Alabuder.

“We must all work together, with the UNSEMG, to identify solutions to prevent terrorists from being able to leverage the funds they make from the illicit trade of charcoal.”

The CMF has two more principal task forces alongside CTF151; the CTF 150 which conducts counter-terrorism and maritime security operations, and CTF 152 which conducts Arabian Gulf maritime security operations.

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