US looking at new moves on Somalia piracy-Clinton

Monday, 7 March 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Clinton says she’s ‘fed up’ with Somali pirate attacks
  • Blames shippers for paying ransoms
  • Says new approach must go after safe-haven ports

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The United States is looking at new strategies to fight pirates off Somalia, who last month killed four Americans and represent a growing threat to sea traffic, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week.

“I’m fed up with it,” Clinton said in testimony to the Senate appropriations committee. “We need to do more, and make it clear that the entire world better get behind what we do and get this scourge resolved.”

Pirates shot dead four U.S. hostages on a private yacht in waters off Somalia on on Feb. 22, the deadliest incident yet involving Americans kidnapped for ransom in an expanding lawless maritime region crossed by key shipping lanes.

Pirate gangs preying on shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean typically target large merchant ships, with oil tankers the prize catch, but the snatching of foreigners can also yield high ransoms. There were around 750 pirate hostages at the end of January.

Clinton said that existing efforts to stop the piracy, which include naval patrols by a number of nations, had failed to significantly dent pirate operations which are increasingly distorting world fuel trade due to higher insurance premiums.

“We have put together an international coalition, but frankly we’re not in my view getting enough out of it ... we’re looking at a lot of different options,” Clinton said, saying the problem demanded a “much more comprehensive approach” by agencies including the Defense Department.

Clinton declined to say what options were under consideration, but did outline factors she said would have to be addressed including a willingness by some shipping companies to sidestep the issue.

“One of our big problems is that a lot of major shipping companies in the world think it’s the price of doing business,” Clinton said. “They pay a ransom and they just go on their merry way. That has been a huge problem.”

Clinton said many foreign naval vessels now patrolling the area were not effective -- “when push comes to shove they’re not really producing” -- and not enough was being done go after the pirates’ safe-haven ports on the Somali coast.

Clinton said there was no question of U.S. military operations in mainland Somalia, where the United States withdrew after the killing of U.S. troops in late 1993 depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”

But she said the piracy issue was moving up Washington’s priority list as attacks continued unabated.

Seychelles jails ten Somali pirates for 20 years

VICTORIA (Reuters) - A court in Seychelles sentenced ten convicted Somali pirates to 20 years in prison on Monday and the Indian Ocean archipelago said it hoped the jail sentence would serve as a deterrent, the government said.

Seychelles is one of several countries in east Africa and the Indian Ocean region conducting trials, or intending to try pirates because Somalia lacks the legal infrastructure.

“The sentences will send a strong message to other pirates on the high seas that we have the capacity to capture, prosecute and jail criminals at sea who threaten our key fisheries and tourism industries,” the islands’ Minister for Home Affairs, Environment and Transport Joel Morgan told Reuters by telephone.

The hijacking of ships off the coast of Somalia, where an Islamist insurgency and general lawlessness have helped pirates to flourish, has cost the shipping industry tens of millions of dollars in ransoms for vessels and their crews.

Earlier this month, Seychelles and Somalia signed an agreement paving the way for Somali prisoners to be repatriated.

Morgan said Somali sea-bandits were a burden on the tax payer, making up about 10 percent of Seychelles’ 400-strong prison population.

“We will wait until the prison facilities and other arrangements in Somalia are ready as we do not want to repatriate them only for them to be released or allowed to serve shorter sentences,” he said.

This group of ten pirates seized a 33-foot fishing vessel with seven Seychellois crew members in November. One pirate was killed in the rescue mission.