The inaugural conference on combatting the illicit smuggling of charcoal was held at the Combined Maritime Forces headquarters in Bahrain on 23 July 2018.
The inaugural Charcoal Smuggling Conference attendees in Bahrain.
With the majority of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries being present, the aim of the conference was to identify potential methods to disrupt the illicit trade in charcoal emanating from Somalia. It is estimated that terrorist organisations such as Al-Shabaab earn in the region of US$10 million per year by smuggling charcoal from Somalia, which is often marketed as legitimate charcoal to buyers in GCC countries.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) placed a total ban on the export of charcoal from Somalia in 2012. In 2014, the UNSC gave authorisation for Member States to inspect vessels suspected to be carrying charcoal from Somalia in violation of the ban, to seize and dispose of the illicit cargo and to divert the vessels to a port for such disposal. There are multiple nuances in enforcing any UNSCR, and for charcoal this includes considerations such as safe disposal, avoiding environmental damage.
A charcoal stockpile in northern Somalia
One further issue with charcoal smuggling is the scale at which the Acacia trees are being burnt to produce charcoal which triggers widespread deforestation. This will leave the country prone to drought and famine, potentially leading to both an environmental and humanitarian disaster, as well as the knock on effect to biodiversity. While CMF, EU NAVFOR and other international partners’ efforts have suppressed piracy from Somalia, further economic hardship would increase the incentives for Somali piracy to resurface.
Dr Charles Cater, the Natural Resources expert from the United Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (UNSEMG) said: “The Monitoring Group looks forward to further cooperation with CMF toward improved implementation of the charcoal ban in order to diminish and disrupt Al-Shabaab financing.”
A bag of Somalian charcoal
Attendees at the conference agreed that CMF and attendant nations would forge stronger links with the UNSEMG and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in order to facilitate information sharing and training.
Captain Abullah Al Bader, the Commander of Combined Task Force 152 said: “We are ready to provide support to all countries to find ways in which we can work to stop the illegal charcoal trade.” He added: “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.”