UN: Somali pirates increase hijackings

Somali pirates have increased the number of successful hijackings in 2010, become more violent and expanded their attack zone, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The pirates staged 37 successful hijackings of ships in the first 10 months of 2010, up from 33 in the same period of 2009, said a report. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the pirates a “scourge”.

International Maritime Organisation (IMO) inquiries “imply that the level of violence employed by the pirates has increased”, said the UN document prepared for the UN Security Council.

The number of attacks has fallen from 193 to 164 as the international naval patrols are more effective, the UN said, quoting IMO figures. But as of October 11, 389 people and 18 vessels were being held ransom by the pirates.

The pirates have increased their scope of action in the Indian Ocean by setting up bigger attack fleets.

So-called “Pirate Action Groups” now see a large “mother boat” command vessel tow two or three attack skiffs out deeper into the ocean.

It said some of the attacks were now up to 1 300 nautical miles off the coast and targeted “ever-larger freighters”.

The international military presence has reduced the number of attacks and hijackings in the Gulf of Aden shipping lanes, but the pirates now roam the southern end of the Red Sea and even venture as far as the Maldives, the report said.

“This eastward and southward shift in piracy has brought a much greater maritime area under threat,” said the report.

“The plight of the 389 hostages currently held by pirates on Somali territory is of particular concern,” Ban commented in the document.

The hostages include crew from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, as well as tourists from Western Europe, said the report.

“In many cases, the victims’ whereabouts are not known, and no independent entity is able to verify their state of health and well-being,” Ban said.

A British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, whose yacht was captured near the Seychelles in 2009, recently marked a year in captivity, with negotiations for their release at a standstill.

The pirates are believed to have demanded a $1-million ransom for their release.

Dozens of vessels from navies around the world now patrol the shipping lanes off the Somalia coast and into the Gulf of Aden. The report said Nato ships alone had disrupted 148 pirate attacks this year and another US-led fleet had stopped “multiple” others.

The report said there was evidence the pirates have moved into new criminal areas such as smuggling contraband and trafficking people.

Ban has appointed a piracy envoy, former French minister Jack Lang, who is drawing up recommendations on new international legal weapons against pirates. The UN Security Council could, meanwhile, pass a new resolution on piracy this month.

The UN chief insisted that Somalia’s civil war must be dealt with to beat piracy.

The country has had no central government since a civil war erupted with the 1991 overthrow of former president Mohamed Siad Barre, and an al-Qaeda-supported Islamist militia is battling transitional leaders for power.

“The severity of the problem off the coast of Somalia is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Ban said in the report.

“Yet I am afraid that the problem will not only be with us for a long time to come, but also has the potential to become worse unless both Somalis and the international community address its root causes.” — Sapa-AFP

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