(Editor's note: The piracy suspects were not in U.S. Africa Command custody during the transfer process. This article by the U.S. Department of State is republished to promote public understanding of U.S. policy with regard to piracy off the coast of Somalia.) Kenya assumed custody March 5, 2009, of seven alleged Somali pirates, captured earlier by the U.S. Navy, with plans to prosecute the suspects swiftly in the Mombasa court system. The Navy turned the suspects and evidence over to Kenya under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed with the United States in January. The United Kingdom has a similar accord with Kenya -- which has agreed to prosecute pirates in its courts -- as part of a stepped-up effort to hold pirates accountable for their actions and deter future attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coastline. Vice Admiral William Gortney told a March 5 congressional hearing that the bilateral agreement took effect that very day, when Kenya accepted the alleged pirates. The Navy captured the men February 11, when a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel called for help as pirates equipped with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades attempted to board. State Department official Stephen Mull told the House Armed Services Committee that the United States is grateful to Kenya for its role in bringing suspected pirates to justice. He also said U.S. officials hope to conclude bilateral agreements with other countries in the region to ensure that no single country bears the burden of prosecution. He named Tanzania as a possible candidate. Piracy is an international crime that is prosecuted through a number of agreements, including the 2000 United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. Freedom of navigation and maritime safety are Obama administration priorities. Pirate attacks have disrupted U.S.-supported World Food Programme deliveries, put international civilian crews at risk and jeopardized commercial shipping interests. Mull articulated existing U.S. strategy to suppress pirate attacks as follows: Enhancing multilateral cooperation Leading efforts to enhance existing international legal authorities Collaborating closely with the international shipping industry Coordinating U.S. and coalition military responses. Pursuing broader diplomatic and political approaches to the longer-term goal of reestablishing a more secure and stable Somalia Testifying in his capacity as the acting under secretary of state for international security, Mull said the United States led an effort for passage of United Nations Security Council resolutions 1846 and 1851 in December 2008. The two resolutions expanded the authority of international forces to conduct counterpiracy operations off the coast of Somalia and onshore. The United States also hosted the first meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy — which comprises representatives from 34 countries and organizations - in New York in January. Mull said U.S. officials met again with representatives of the group on March 5 in Copenhagen, Denmark, to discuss how best to use national laws to prosecute pirates. The group has established four working subgroups. They focus on the legal aspects of suppressing piracy, military coordination off Somalia, diplomatic outreach and best practices for outwitting pirates. The United States heads the best practices group. The group met in London at the end of February to hear a report from the International Chamber of Shipping on deterring piracy. Gortney said U.S. officials worked with the International Maritime Organization to produce a best practices pamphlet that advises flagged ships, among other things, to travel faster than 15 knots and not to travel at night. The contact group will meet next in Egypt on March 16–17 to consider recommendations from the working groups and requests from new nations wishing to participate. MULTILATERAL NAVAL EFFORTS THWART ATTACKS The U.S. Navy established Combined Task Force 151 to work with other naval forces in the area off the Somali coast. The task force includes navies from European Union members. Since piracy on the high seas is a universal crime, Gortney said, all navies are obligated to carry out anti-piracy operations. U.S. military forces have been working with counterparts from Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom -- sometimes operating as part of alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Shortly, Gortney said, additional forces are expected to join from Sweden, Belgium, Poland, Japan, Jordan, Singapore, Bahrain and South Korea. As a consequence of cooperative efforts, the number of pirate attacks has dropped from an average of seven per month in the last quarter of 2008 to only two a month in the first months of 2009. But witnesses and members of Congress who considered the implications of piracy off of Africa agreed that there will not be a long-term solution to regional piracy until conflict in Somalia ceases. To that end, the United States supports the U.N.-led Djibouti Peace Process, a mechanism by which the Somalis can make political and security decisions with help from international donors as they address the need for political reconciliation.