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U.N. Forms Group to Coordinate Actions Against Maritime Piracy
Twenty-four nations and five international organizations have formed a group at the United Nations to strengthen efforts to thwart piracy off the coast of Somalia. <br /> <br />&#34;The contact group notes with deep concern that piracy off the
Twenty-four nations and five international organizations have formed a group at the United Nations to strengthen efforts to thwart piracy off the coast of Somalia.

"The contact group notes with deep concern that piracy off the coast of Somalia grew significantly in 2008, and that attacks on shipping vessels can be expected to increase without enhanced international efforts," the new group said in a prepared statement January 14 at U.N. headquarters. The group pledged to report on its actions regularly to the U.N. Security Council.

The Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia was formed at a private meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1851, approved by the council December 16. It authorizes nations and regional security organizations to take "all necessary measures appropriate" in Somali territory to interdict those planning and conducting piracy on the high seas.

A December 2 resolution (1846) authorizes nations to fight piracy at sea off the coast of Somalia.

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), there have been 440 acts of piracy and armed robbery reported off the coast of Somalia since the organization started compiling relevant statistics in 1984. In 2008, the IMO said, there were more than 120 attacks reported, more than 35 ships were seized by pirates and approximately 600 seamen were kidnapped and held for ransom. Currently, 14 ships and some 280 seamen from 25 nations are being held hostage in Somalia. Two seamen have been killed in the attacks, the IMO said.

"The pirates have been demanding million-dollar ransoms for release of the hostages, ships and cargoes. Piracy disrupts critical humanitarian aid deliveries to Somalia, increases shipping insurance premiums along one of the world's most traveled routes to near prohibitive levels, damages littoral economies by forcing the diversion of vessels around the Cape of Good Hope, and raises the prospect of an environmental disaster as ships fall prey to hostile intent," the group said.

The pirates largely have enjoyed free reign over Somalia's east coast and the Gulf of Aden where approximately 20,000 cargo ships each year sail to and from Egypt's Suez Canal carrying a tenth of world trade. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991.

The Contact Group includes Australia, China, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, The Netherlands, Oman, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia TFG [Transitional Federal Government], Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Yemen. Also joining the group are the African Union, European Union, NATO, the U.N. Secretariat, and the International Maritime Organization.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Mark Kimmitt told reporters that "we believe that 2009 will be a year where we can turn this problem around if we come together as a group of nations, working not simply the military aspect, but the judicial aspect, the financial aspect, the industry aspect," according to the Associated Press.
Currently, 16 nations have warships off the coast of Somalia in an attempt to blunt pirate attacks. And the U.S. Navy announced January 8 that a new multinational maritime task force has been formed to conduct counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea. The Navy said it is expecting 20 nations to join the task force.

The full text of the contact group's statement is available on the State Department Web site.
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