MOGADISHU Somalia's government has welcomed a call by the United States for countries to have U.N. authority to hunt down Somali pirates on land as well as pursue them off the coast of the Horn of Africa nation.
A surge in piracy this year in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean off Somalia has driven up insurance costs, brought the gangs tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, and prompted foreign navies to rush to the area to protect shipping.
Diplomats at the United Nations said the U.S. delegation there had circulated a draft resolution on piracy for the Security Council to vote on next week.
A draft text seen by Reuters says countries with permission from Somalia's government "may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia, including in its airspace" to capture those using Somali territory for piracy.
"The government cordially welcomes the United Nations to fight pirates inland and (on) the Indian Ocean," said Hussein Mohamed Mohamud, spokesman for Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf.
"We're also willing to give them a hand in case they need our assistance," Mohamud told Reuters in the capital Mogadishu.
Somalia has seen continuous conflict since 1991 and its weak Western-backed government is still fighting Islamist insurgents. The chaos has helped fuel the explosion in piracy: there have been nearly 100 attacks in Somali waters this year, despite the presence of several foreign warships. The gunmen are holding about a dozen ships and nearly 300 crew.
Among the captured vessels are a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million of crude oil, the Sirius Star, and a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying some 30 Soviet-era tanks, the MV Faina.
Many of the pirates are based in Somalia's semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland. An official there said he was skeptical whether the international community would take action.
"We are not happy because the United Nations never implements what they endorse," Abdulqadir Muse Yusuf, Puntland's assistant fisheries minister, told Reuters in Bosasso.
"We urge them to fight the pirates on land and in our waters. We would also like them to empower our security forces so that we can participate in the global war on piracy too."
There are already several international naval operations off Somalia, including a NATO anti-piracy mission. The European Union agreed Monday to launch anti-piracy naval operations in the area, involving warships and aircraft.
The U.N. special envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, told an international meeting on piracy in Kenya Thursday that the pirates were "threatening the very freedom and safety of maritime trade routes, affecting not only Somalia and the region, but also a large percentage of world trade."
(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Mark Trevelyan)