UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - An international crackdown on piracy off Somalia’s coast has yielded around 100 arrests and put bandits operating near the Horn of Africa on the defensive, U.S. and U.N. officials said on Friday.
“The international maritime presence is increasingly successful,” U.N. special envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah told reporters.
“It is successful because pirates have to go further away,” Ould-Abdallah said. As a result, pirates have to spend more of the ransom money they receive to hijack ships and avoid arrest, Ould-Abdallah said.
“Many (pirates) have been captured,” Ould-Abdallah said. “We have about 100 already arrested. I don’t know how many disappeared. ... I think financiers behind them are also aware that they are being watched.”
Foreign navies have been deployed off the coast of the lawless Horn of Africa state since the turn of the year to try to prevent piracy that has flourished in busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes.
Somali pirates in recent months have seized several cargo ships and collected tens of millions of dollars in ransom for the safe release of crews and cargoes.
Figures for the first five months of 2009 show piracy off Somalia, which has been mired in civil war and without a proper government for 18 years, had actually worsened.
In 2008, there were more than 100 pirate attacks in the region, with more than 40 successful hijackings. This year, around 100 attacks have been registered, including more than 25 successful hijackings.
“The issue is getting worse,” Somalia’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar told reporters as he pleaded for aid to help his country build an effective coast guard.
Separately, the so-called Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia on Friday signed a declaration supporting measures to be taken by the group to help counter Somali piracy. The contact group includes the United States, the European Union, NATO and the United Nations.
Greg Delawie, a U.S. envoy present at the signing ceremony, told reporters those measures would include apprehending and prosecuting pirates and supporting the creation of effective coast guards in the region.
Omaar said an effective Somali coast guard could help put an end to piracy in the country’s waters. But to get it up and running, he said, money and equipment were urgently needed.
“We have the will and we have the men on the ground in the areas where these things are happening,” he said, adding that the coast guard would need money, equipment, boats, radar and satellite communications systems.
He said creating a coast guard would also create employment opportunities for young Somali men who may go into piracy to escape abject poverty.
Editing by Will Dunham