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Fishermen risk all diving for a catch off Somali coast

Since losing his fishing boat in a storm off the coast of Mogadishu, Abdullahi Mohamoud Tifow, 50, has been going out diving in the ocean to catch fish and crabs to support his family of eight children.

He makes about ten dollars from the couple of kilograms he sells at Hamar Weyne fish market, just enough for a meal a day for the family. The risks far outweigh the profits, as he dives to a depth of 50 metres using a well-worn mask and an oxygen tank that has already failed three times in the recent past.

“We dive deep in the sea and swim in search of our daily bread. What I get is only enough for sustenance and the reason for this is that we don’t have any equipment to help us make a good catch,” he said.

Abdullahi and three colleagues bought a fishing boat for $4,000 in 2017 and lost it in a storm in 2019. He used to make a good catch with the boat and built his family a decent home with his savings, but he has no money to replace the boat.

Two of his long-time fishing friends drowned in April 2020 when their oxygen tanks failed. Abdullahi, who has been fishing for 21 years, acknowledged that deep-sea diving is dangerous but he has no alternative.

There are around 300 men of all ages regularly going out to sea with off the coast of Mogadishu and Middle Shabelle with unsafe diving equipment to make a daily catch for their families. Most say they have no alternative sources of income.

Mohamed Hassan Mohamoud started diving three years ago, taking after his father, a retired fisherman. He is the sole provider of his family of four, making $8 to $10 selling fish to pay for food and house rent. He cannot afford to buy a boat.

“There are no other jobs in town. Fishing is addictive, we started at a young age, and we used to benefit from it back then. But now we hardly make a good catch as we use a small fishing net that we swim with to trap the fish,” he said.

The chairman of Dan Kulmis fishing cooperative, Haji Kamil Maki Aweys, said there has been an increasing number of deaths among youth going out diving with poor equipment. In the past three months, he said that six people had died off the coast due to malfunctioning of oxygen tanks.

Diving equipment costs an unaffordable $450, so most fishermen are tempted to use faulty gear. Dan Kulmis has been conducting awareness campaigns to advise people not to dive in the deep sea when it is rough, but some of the fishermen do not heed the warnings.

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