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International Community Focuses on Combating Piracy
The United States--along with other nations and international bodies such as the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union and NATO--is searching for new ways to stop piracy off the coast of East Africa. <br /> <br />The Bush
The United States--along with other nations and international bodies such as the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union and NATO--is searching for new ways to stop piracy off the coast of East Africa.

The Bush administration December 9, 2008 introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that, if approved, would allow foreign countries notifying Somalia's Transitional Federal Government to follow pirates onshore in Somalia and stop the planning or facilitating of their robberies. The draft would allow access to Somalia's airspace, as well, and offers a major expansion of the tools available to those now fighting piracy at sea.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports that 40 ships were seized in 2008 and pirates hold hundreds of crew members. The IMB's December 4 Piracy Alert reports some Somali pirates operate closer to Kenya now and use "mother ships" to assist smaller attack boats.

U.S. Navy ships and those from a number of other countries have quarantined a pirate-occupied Ukrainian ship called the MV Faina to prevent its cargo of 30 Soviet-era tanks, weapons and ammunition from reaching African shores while ransom negotiations are under way. An estimated 14 ships now are held by pirates.

In a December 3 communique, NATO highlights its commitment to fight the "scourge" of piracy off the Horn of Africa. NATO members' ships--including vessels from Italy, Turkey and the United Kingdom--recently escorted World Food Progamme (WFP) relief supplies to Somalia.

NATO began such escorts, officially called Operation Allied Provider, after it became too dangerous for WFP-chartered ships to sail through the Gulf of Aden. The mission has enabled WFP to deliver tons of humanitarian aid.

The U.S. Navy already had ships in the area to deter terrorism and train with African navies. U.S. Vice Admiral William Gortney, who leads the Combined Maritime Forces, said that although pirate attacks pose a threat to global commerce, commercial liners need to realize that navies cannot fully protect the more than 1 million square kilometers of navigable water.

U.S. Navy ships received new help December 8 when the European Union stationed six ships and three aircraft in the region. The EU's Naval Force Somalia (also known as Operation Atalanta) is now escorting WFP shipments.

The EU ships deployed in support of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on piracy. Specifically, on December 2, the UNSC extended the U.S.-sponsored Resolution 1846, which allows navies to combat piracy in Somali waters. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said Resolution 1846 "is the beginning for setting a comprehensive approach for dealing with piracy in that region."

U.S. officials, in addition to efforts in the United Nations, are working bilaterally with various European countries. DiCarlo said it is important for countries engaged in stopping piracy to focus on how to handle captured pirates. She said an existing U.N. convention provides sufficient means to prosecute pirates, but that other legal authority could be considered.

Although less than 1 percent of ships passing through the Gulf of Aden have been upset by pirate actions, specialists predict a worsening problem. For example, Dominick Donald of Aegis Defense, a London-based security and risk management company, told the Heritage Foundation November 24 that the pirates have figured out gaps in naval capabilities.

J. Peter Pham, a James Madison University professor who writes about piracy, told that attacks are proliferating "because piracy is a crime of opportunity." A weak government in Somalia is unable to restrain pirate gangs, he said, and ship owners are paying huge ransoms.

Pham said an expanded naval presence will not necessarily work. While the various navies have exchanged standard courtesies, he said, they have yet to integrate their actions.

The international organizations are moving toward a more aggressive and coordinated stance. Rules of engagement to guide the EU's naval task force when Operation Atalanta enters pirate-infested waters are being made final. And NATO officials said they would consider additional counterpiracy missions.


U.S. Navy Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, who works for the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain, said the real solutions to piracy are on land. He told Time magazine that the pirates have to go ashore eventually and that lawlessness in Somalia, which allows the pirates to thrive there, is at the root of the problem and must be treated.

Pham assessed it this way: "Ultimately, an end to the lawlessness at sea will not be seen until the statelessness onshore in Somalia is addressed." (However, he advocates mitigating the problem by having ships invest more in security and refuse to pay ransoms. Promoting forceful actions by navies and raising the costs to the pirates will "make their predations less attractive," he said.)

Secretary of State Rice will visit the U.N. December 16 to press for passage of the resolution allowing foreign countries and organizations that cooperate with Somalia's government to take "all necessary measures" against pirates, ashore and in Somalia's airspace. The access would be limited to a 12-month period.

While it will take a long-term commitment from the international community, restoring the rule of law is a solution favored by DiCarlo. "We need to provide a safe and secure environment [in Somalia] to allow the transitional government to function," she said.