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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The United States wants to renew a U.N. counterpiracy resolution that has not been used since it was passed almost a year ago, while people in the shipping industry worry about what could happen if it were ever invoked.

U.N. Resolution 1851 authorizes the use of force against pirates on land before they hit the ocean to commandeer commercial vessels for ransom — and in some cases seize private yachts — off East Africa. The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the resolution in December 2008, and it is slated to expire after one year.

“These authorities provide a basis for ongoing counter-piracy military operations and allow member states to prevent pirates from using Somalia’s territorial waters, land and air as safe havens to evade forces in the area,” Rosemary DiCarlo, alternative U.S. representative for special political affairs, said in the U.N. Security Council Chambers, according to a transcript of the recent session.

State Department spokesman David McKeeby said in an e-mail that Resolution 1851 will be renewed but declined to explain why it is being renewed when it has never been used.

DiCarlo noted that there were 160 instances of piracy in the Eastern Africa area through the first nine months of 2009, compared with 136 during the same time last year. Many of those attacks are moving into the western Indian Ocean because of naval operations in the area.

According to the International Chamber of Commerce, 114 vessels were boarded and 34 vessels were seized in the first nine months of 2009. During that time, pirates took 661 crewmembers hostage and kidnapped 12 people. Six people were killed and eight were reported missing as a result of piracy.

Experts with the International Chamber of Shipping/International Shipping Federation in London applaud Resolution 1851 and other measures to combat piracy, but they said they worry about how pirates would react to a strike against them on land.

“Clearly there is going to be a risk to the lives of the seafarers that are being held hostage,” said shipping federation spokesman Simon Bennett.

The problem is the pirates are typically holding up to 200 people at one time, hostages are being brought ashore or are being held on ships in port and the pirates stay in touch with one another, Bennett said.

He pointed to a French raid on a yacht in April in which one male hostage and two pirates were killed as an example of the dangers of using force.


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