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Yemen's fishermen caught between Somali pirates and pirate hunters

Attacks by both Somali pirates and international ships hunting them have crippled Yemen's fishing business, the tiny country's second-largest export industry after oil.

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After two hours the Indians allowed the fishermen to go free, but not before they spoiled the Yemenis' fish, Bokheet says.

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The Indian Embassy in Sanaa has refused to comment on the issue.

"We were happy that there would be coalition forces and would like to thank them for guarding our sea, but some of those have misrepresented the job of the coalition forces," Gambeet says. "They attack our fishermen. Instead of guarding them, they attack them."

According to Yemen's Ministry of Fisheries, 10 fishermen have been killed by either pirates or international navies since the beginning of 2007. These fatalities, coupled with the major economic toll piracy has taken on the country, merit an international fund to assist Yemen, says Deputy Minister of Fisheries Abdulla Basunbul.

"We would like for the international countries affected by piracy to financially support Yemen," he says.

The economic toll

Fish and fish products are Yemen's second largest export after oil. Since the beginning of 2009, Gambeet says that Hadramawt Administrative Division has lost about $150,000 because Yemeni fishermen are now too scared to venture into their pirate-infested fishing grounds.

"It has affected the country because we depend on fishery products as a major export," Mr. Basunbul says. "In the coastal areas all people work in fishing, so now people in Hadramawt and other areas don't have any work."

In impoverished and unstable Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, many out-of-work fishermen end up staying home and relying on government stipends.

Lost work could foment unrest

The decline of the fishing industry is one of many problems now facing the Yemeni government, says Gregory Johnsen, an expert on Yemen at Princeton University. "As Yemen's economic problems continue, the various strands of popular frustration and grievances are coalescing into one loose coalition of anti-government opposition.

Shawgy Jumain, also from Hadramawt, relies on compensation from the FCC to support his wife and four children, praying for the day when the seas will once again be safe for fishing. He experienced the perils of Somali piracy first hand when, in May 2008, pirates seized the boats of Mr. Jumain and 22 fellow fishermen while they were in Yemen's territorial waters. After the pirates failed to find an international ship to attack using the Yemeni fishermen as decoys, they took the men to Somalia where they were held hostage.

"When we arrived there they asked for $75,000 for our ransom," Jumain says. "They said: 'If you give us this ransom we will release you.' They told us that it's nothing in comparison with the money they ask from the international ships. We told them that we are fishermen and we don't have anything."

After two days, the pirates released Jumain and the others after looting all their belongings and sending the beaten down fishermen back to Yemen in one small boat and with "the clothes on our backs," Jumain recounted.

"The coalition navies are everywhere in the sea," he says, "but the problem of the pirates is still growing, and they aren't solving it."

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