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March 18, 2009

UN: ending piracy requires restoring order to Somalia

Despite the launch of "one of the largest anti-piracy flotillas in modern history," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that what he terms the "clan-organized taking of vessels off the coast of Somalia" will only cease when order is restored to that country.

"There is a critical need to tackle the problem of piracy with a multifaceted approach" to ensure that the political process, the peacekeeping efforts of the African Union (AU) and the strengthening of institutions work in tandem, Mr. Ban writes to the Security Council in a report released today.

The Secretary General encourages Member States to place increased emphasis on ending lawlessness in Somalia through support to the Djibouti peace process and the AU Mission in the country, known as AMISOM.

He adds that it is necessary for the international community to use the existing international legal framework effectively to apprehend and prosecute suspected pirates and consider further strengthening it.

The 111 attacks in the critical sea corridor linking the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean that occurred in 2008 represent an increase of nearly 200 per cent over the previous year, Mr. Ban states, adding that there had been seven reported incidents in 2009 to the end of February.

Of great concern to the UN, Mr. Ban says, is the safety of vessels carrying food and other aid on which some 2.4 million Somalis depend, 95 per cent of which arrives by sea and which was threatened by the 2007 attack on a ship contracted by the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the report, the most prominent pirate fleets are based in the fishing communities of north-eastern and central Somalia and are organized in a way that reflects clan-based social structures.

The report says there are two main piracy networks in Somalia: one in Puntland and the other based in the southern Mudug region. It is also reported that in "Puntland", the most important pirate group is located in the Eyl district, with other smaller groups operating from Bossaso, Qandala, Caluula, Bargaal and Garacad. By the end of 2008, the Eyl Group was holding hostage six vessels and their crew and was expected to have earned approximately $30 million in ransom payments.

The Mudug piracy network operates from Xarardheere. It was this group that held the MV Faina, together with three other ships, for a period of approximately five months from September 2008 to February 2009. It is widely acknowledged that some of these groups now rival established Somali authorities in terms of their military capabilities and resource bases.

The report notes that the NATO Shipping Center cites four main areas from which current piracy operations are conducted:

(a) For ships seized in the Gulf of Aden, the Aluula Pirate Refuge Port is sometimes the first port of call for pirates, as a base for re-supply before carrying on to main pirate home port bases in Eyl, Hobyo and Xarardheere. This is also one of the few coastal villages with a usable flat dirt airstrip;

(b) The Gulf of Aden and Mogadishu pirate attack zones are served by "mother ships" based in Bossaso and Mogadishu, and in Al Mukallah and Al Shishr in Yemen;

(c) Ships hijacked in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean are anchored near Eyl and Hobyo, where on-shore support networks supply pirates and hostages with food and supplies pending ransom payments and release;

(d) The Xarardheere Pirate base, largely under the control of the Suleiman/Habar clan, is also linked to piratical acts in this region.

There are increasing reports of complicity by members of the Somali region of Puntland administration in piracy activities, says the report.

"However, it is encouraging to note that both the former and the current leadership of Puntland appear to be taking a more robust approach in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia," says the report. "In December 2008, the former leader of Puntland, Adde Musa, informed the Monitoring Group on Somalia that he had sacked several officials for their involvement in piracy. In September and October 2008, Puntland security forces conducted at least two operations to free hijacked ships. On 8 January 2009, it was reported that Abdurahman Mohamed Faroole, leader of the region of Puntland", declared the fight against piracy off the coast of "Puntland" a top priority for his administration."

The report says that the Puntland Coastguard, established in 2000, has an estimated strength of 300 personnel and up to 8 armed ocean-going vessels. Although in 2003 there were concerns that the Coastguard provided legitimacy for sanctions-busting by local authorities, as of mid-2008, the Coastguard has demonstrated limited but growing effectiveness in its operations against pirate groups operating in Puntland coastal waters.

"In the interests of a durable solution to piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, it is important that local coastguards in the region, where possible, are assisted in ways that will enable them to constructively play a role in the anti-piracy efforts conducted off the coast of Somalia and the surrounding region. As part of a long-term strategy to promote the closure of pirates' shore bases and effectively monitor the coastline, I therefore recommend that Member States consider strengthening the capacity of the Coastguards both in Somalia and the region," says Mr. Ban.

In the past few months, political leaders in Puntland and neighboring States have vowed to defeat the pirates, and a large number of countries, in addition to groups such as NATO and the European Union have contributed to a policing fleet under the legal framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and various Security Council resolutions.

Measures include protective escorts for WFP-contracted vessels with the result that no further attacks have been made on such ships, the Secretary-General says, urging that long-term continuity for those escorts be assured.

The UN Secretariat, Mr. Ban affirms, will continue to perform a central role in information and coordination in combating piracy and he urged all Member States to keep it updated about their anti-piracy activities.

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