* Tanzania has arrested 11 piracy suspects
* Somali pirates making millions of dollars in ransoms
By Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM, April 17 (Reuters) - Tanzania has ordered its army to escort ships searching for oil and gas off its coast to protect them from Somali pirates.
The East African country has licensed at least 17 international companies to look for offshore and onshore energy reserves.
“Due to increased piracy attacks, we have been compelled to beef up security in our territory,” Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda told parliament late on Saturday.
“The first step has been to provide escorts to vessels that request security assistance when they enter our territorial waters and the second is for the government to provide protection to vessels exploring for gas and oil in our ocean.”
Companies exploring in Tanzania include Canada’s Artumas Group Inc (AGI) AGIC.OL, France’s Maurel & Prom (MAUP.PA), Norway’s StatoilHydro ASA, Shell International (RDSa.L) and Ras al-Khaimah Gas Commission of United Arab Emirates.
Somalia’s lack of effective central government has allowed piracy to flourish offshore and deep into the Indian Ocean despite a flotilla of international warships.
Armed pirate gangs have made millions of dollars demanding ransoms for ships captured as far south as the Seychelles and eastwards towards India.
Pinda said Tanzanian authorities had so far arrested 11 Somali pirates in its waters and prosecuted all the suspects.
Tanzania this month postponed its fourth deep offshore bidding round to next year to allow it to offer new blocks discovered by a new seismic survey. [ID:nLDE73B15N] (Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens)