Friday, 19 February 2010

Cheaper Piracy Patrols off Somalia Needed, U.S. Official Says

By Peter S. Green
Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. says it wants to find cheaper options to battle pirates off the coast of Somalia, as an international naval force has pushed the seaborne brigands from the 1 million square miles of the Gulf of Aden into an area twice that size in the Indian Ocean.

“The locus of pirate activity has shifted and we are trying to deal with it,” Tom Countryman, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said in Washington today. “It’s expensive, and that’s why we feel strongly the need to pursue the lowest-cost options to deter piracy.”

Warships from more than 20 nations have kept a shipping corridor open and nearly free of attacks for the 30,000 cargo ships that pass through it annually, Countryman said. There were 198 attacks last year, 50 of them successful, and seven vessels with 160 crew members are known to be held by pirates, the State Department said in an e-mailed statement. There’s been only one successful hijacking of a ship in the Gulf of Aden since last summer, Countryman said.

Aerial drones, manned aircraft and satellite surveillance could help track shipping and pirate activity off the coast of East Africa, Countryman said.

Defensive Measures

Defensive measures taken by ship owners and crews are “the lowest-cost and most-effective way to deter pirate attacks,” Countryman said. Measures can include using firehoses to fend off pirate skiffs, erecting barbed wire at entry points to the ship and teaching the crew to take evasive action when potential pirates are in sight.
Rebuilding Somalia’s economy, shattered by two decades of civil war, and going after the organized crime syndicates that finance the attacks are the best ways to halt piracy, said Countryman.

“The economic situation in Somalia has led to a situation in which people will take these kinds of very high-risk efforts -- very high-risk criminal activities -- in order to feed their family,” Countryman said.
“The people deriving the primary benefit are not the poor Somali fishermen,” he said. “They are the capitalists who have financed the acquisition of boats and put these young men into the risky position of endangering their own lives in search of some money. Source: Bloomberg

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