US Speaking Out

The United States has expressed concern about rising maritime piracy in the region and the damage these attacks wreak on the already fragile, political, social, economic and humanitarian situation in eastern Africa.

In interviews with media outlets in the Middle East, Donna L. Hopkins, Coordinator of Counter Piracy and Maritime Security at the Bureau of Political Military Affairs, US Department of State, has stated that simply deploying more naval vessels would not solve the problem.

‘‘We are very concerned that pirate ransom money is actually undermining the development of sustainable legitimate economic activity such as fisheries and normal maritime trade,’’ said the counter-piracy official.

She revealed governments were cooperating on a judicial framework to prosecute the criminals. ‘‘Work is ongoing in dozens of cooperating governments to enable prosecution and incarceration of pirates.  Piracy is a crime of universal jurisdiction, and the United States firmly believes that every nation can and should prosecute pirates who attack their interests.’’

Affected states – the nations of the flag registry, the vessel owner or operator, the countries of nationalities of the crew – should pass national laws criminalising piracy and then prosecute criminals who attack their interests.  Several countries had successfully implemente this, including the United States, according to the official.

Additional naval patrols could be considered, but that’s not a solution to the larger problems prevailing in Somalia, besides there were not enough ships to patrol the entire Indian Ocean, said the official.

The US Navy’s 5th fleet based in Bahrain runs counter-piracy operations under the Combined Maritime Force, a 25-navy grouping to secure regional waters from threats. On the question of a larger US presence in the region’s waters to combat the menace, she said, ‘‘Not at this point in time.  Our efforts are focused on improving prosecution options and disrupting the illicit financial networks that enable piracy.’’

A greater participation from Middle Eastern navies to maintain security at seas was welcome, said the State Department official.

Experts put the annual cost of piracy at between $7 and 12 billion per year, but the US estimates it to be much more. ‘‘It’s very hard to quantify the economic costs of piracy, but I suspect the the figure is probably rather low. Just as important to us, however, are the human and social costs of piracy, the damage it is doing to the already tragic political and economic landscape of Somalia, and the terrible cost to innocent mariners who are held hostage and abused physically, mentally, and emotionally by pirates,’’ said Hopkins.

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