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Successful pirate attacks off Somalia on the rise, U.N. says

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 4, 2010

STUTTGART, Germany — Even as the overall number of pirate attacks off Somalia’s coast has declined in the past year, the rate of successful vessel hijackings is on the rise, according to a new United Nations report.

“The trend of the increased levels of violence employed by the pirates, as well as their expanding reach is disconcerting,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his latest Security Council report on piracy.

International Maritime Organization data show that in the first nine months of 2010, there were 164 attacks against ships in the waters off the coast of Somalia, 37 of which resulted in hijackings. Twenty five of those hijackings took place in the western Indian Ocean. During the same period in 2009, there were 193 reported attacks and 33 ships hijacked.

The number of successful assaults apparently increased by one on Wednesday, according to an Associated Press report.

The European Union’s anti-piracy naval force said Somali pirates hijacked a Comoros-flagged ship Wednesday on its way to Tanzania, the AP reported. The vessel had 29 people on board.

The increased military presence in the Gulf of Aden has helped to reduce the number of attacks, according to the U.N. But instead of giving up, the pirates have simply stretched their reach and headed for deeper water.

“Tightened surveillance and control in the Gulf of Aden has forced the Somali pirates to expand their operations well into the Indian Ocean to more than 1,000 nautical miles off the Somali coast,” the U.N. report stated. “This eastward and southward shift in piracy has brought a much greater maritime area under threat.”

Though pirates are getting better at turning attacks into successful hijackings, these violent encounters still account for just a fraction of the 33,000 ships traveling through the Gulf of Aden each year.

However, there are larger security concerns. The U.N., echoing fears recently raised by U.S. officials, reported that more needs to be done to track the financing of pirates, which could be linked to criminal networks and insurgent groups such as the Somalia-based Al-Shabab.

“We need to know more about whether there are any connections to the financing of militias or insurgent groups in Somalia or elsewhere,” Ban said.

In the U.N. report, Ban also called on the international community to do more to ensure pirates are prosecuted after being taken into custody.

During a U.S. Africa Command-hosted conference in Stuttgart last month, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson raised similar concerns, saying too many countries are unwilling to prosecute pirates once they are captured.

“Many of the ships that are pirated have ownership which is international and not African,” Carson said. “Many of those ships are flagged by non-African countries and many of those ships are crewed by non-African crews. But in the end, when pirates are captured by an international fleet, the owners of the vessels from different countries refuse to press charges in their countries.”

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil

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