Gains Against Piracy

Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, addresses a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on the current situation of Somali maritime piracy.

Some Gains Against Somali Piracy – Fight Continues

Washington — Although some progress has been made in suppressing Somali maritime piracy, the fight continues — mostly because this lucrative crime gives the pirates the financial ability to adopt more sophisticated technology to terrorize maritime vessels.

When Somali pirates successfully hijack a commercial vessel, the average ransom is now at $4 million and has reached as much as $12 million, according to Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Ransoms paid in 2011 totaled $135 million, Shapiro said at a March 13 event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Moreover, criminal investors interested in the ransom payoffs have added to the financial strength of the Somali piracy enterprise.

“The United States has a long tradition of opposing the payment of ransom,” Shapiro said, “and we have worked diligently to discourage or minimize ransoms.”
Nonetheless, Somali pirate operations have become flush from the money made from ransom payments and are more sophisticated, Shapiro said. As a result, Somali pirates now operate in a total sea space of approximately 2.5 million square nautical miles.

Because Americans as well as people in countries around the world depend on secure and reliable shipping lanes for their medicine, food, energy and consumer goods, the Obama administration has taken measures to control maritime piracy, Shapiro said.

These include:

• Increasing security via U.S. and multinational naval escorts and patrols that escort convoys of commercial ships and patrol high-risk waters. On any given day, up to 30 vessels from as many as 20 nations conduct counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and beyond, Shapiro said.

• Encouraging an increase in prosecution and incarceration of apprehended pirates, their supporters and financiers. More than 1,000 pirates are in custody in some 20 countries around the world, many of whom have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, according to Shapiro.

• Intensifying international cooperation. In January 2009, the United States helped establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which now includes nearly 70 nations, international organizations and maritime trade associations. “The Contact Group has helped galvanize action and coordinate counterpiracy policy among its participants,” Shapiro said.

• Working with the private sector to develop better methods to ward off pirate attacks.

“We are seeing signs that all of these efforts are having a positive effect,” Shapiro said. “In 2011, even though the number of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia increased slightly over 2010, the number of successful pirate attacks fell by nearly half.”

“There has also been a significant drop in the numbers of ships and crew held hostage,” he said. “In January 2011, pirates held 31 ships and 710 hostages. In early March of 2012, pirates held eight ships and 213 hostages. This is still too many, but it is clear that progress is being made.”

According to Shapiro, the greatest challenge in combating maritime piracy remains on land.

“The only long-term solution to piracy is the re-establishment of stability and adequate governance in Somalia,” Shapiro said. He noted that at the February 23 Somalia conference in London, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton once again declared the U.S. commitment to working with the international community in this effort.

Source: All Africa

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