Monday, May 3, 2010

Pirates Launch Consistent Attacks off Ecuadorian Coast

One of the principle risks involved in an artisanal fisherman´s life in Ecuador has little to do with the actual fishing practices that he has spent decades repeating day in and day out. It has nothing to do with the rough seas that arrive with the South winds beginning in April, nor the 8 meter wooden/fiberglass boat that takes him to sea each evening to bob in the ocean for at least 12 hours, nor its´ seemingly undersized 75 hp hand-steered motor. It is not even related to pulling hundreds of meters of nylon long-lines for hours on end each night against the current, molding his hands over time into implements that favor bound sausages more than a man´s hands. The most fearsome danger in a small scale fisherman´s life in Ecuador is piracy.

In the last 8 months, in the two fishing villages NAZCA is primarily involved with in Esmeraldas, pirates have robbed over 10 motors and killed 4 fishermen at sea. The piracy is directed towards the theft of the motors which each cost just over $6,000 new. When fishermen resist the attack that takes place in the middle of the night several miles offshore, that is when deaths occur. Pirates carry guns and often have inside information from within fishing fleets about who is fishing where, with whom, and whether or not they are armed. These thefts and robberies are statistics from two small fishing villages that are subject to the same risks as villages and cities that dot the entire Ecuadorian coast. A band of pirates that can steal numerous motors a month can gather an income far superior to anything available to someone of their capacity through legitimate methods. They just have to be ok with shooting and beating other fishermen who engage in the same line of work they used to do, and were likely raised to do within a community of fishermen. Fisherman go offshore in the evenings to set lines at night and return in the morning with 3 men in a boat and 1 75 hp engine. Pirates go offshore in the evenings to look for fishermen, often colliding with them, armed with pistols and rifles, with 5-10 men in a boat and 2 75 hp motors on the same wooden/fiberglass boats. Piracy attacks have also occured on transient sailing vessels and commerical ships in Ecuador. Fishermen are at the greatest risk when fishing closer to shore for Corvina, the cash crop for several of these communities. Attacks are greatly reduced when fishermen begin fishing further offshore for marlin and other fish further offshore.

The armed forces in this area of Ecuador in recent years have been more concerned with drug traffic, but fishing communities are crying out for increased attention and resources to be dedicated to this severe problem. When 3 fishermen were killed from San Francisco del Cabo several months ago, authorities found and arrested one of the pirates. He was taken to Muisne, a larger city nearby, where authorities were carrying him through the town to be jailed. A mob formed, took the man from the marines, soaked him in gasoline, and lit him on fire. That night the fisherman´s hometown through a party and celebrated the vigilante justice. NAZCA has attained grants to complete a radio communication system in the reserve to create communication between fishermen while at sea and their home ports. There currently exists zero. However, we will soon be constructing a tower and installing two base radios and distributing hand held radios to the fleet. They are also being trained in operating hand held gps. There is a complex equation full of variables and conditions that results in such a problem as piracy including things such as income, lack of government resources, law enforcement, apathy, and just bad people. However, it is our hope that increased communication and contact with land while at sea can begin to serve as an aid in the issue. A real comprehensive solution and erradication lies much deeper.

Below are a few photos from Cabo last week, when pirates chased one of the fishing vessels for several miles forcing it to retreat back to port. The town waited overnight for news as to whether or not the pirates had found the rest of the fleet. Thankfully, no one was harmed nor robbed.

Two relevant links: (Both in Spanish)
Reportaje desde Subscretaria de Recursos Pesqueros

Desde El Universo

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