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U.N. to Step Up Battle Against Somali Piracy in Indian Ocean

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 26 2011 (IPS) - A former Indian ambassador once jokingly remarked that one of the biggest misconceptions in the United States is that the Indian Ocean belongs to India.

“Not so,” he said, “but we wish we did.”

Today, the growing threats from Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean is causing alarm in a country considered a veritable superpower in Asia.

“Somali piracy has become an organised industry,” says India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Hardeep Singh Puri.

And 95 percent of the piracy in international waters is by Somali pirates, he added.

Alarmed by the increase, the United Nations has proposed the establishment – for a transitional period – of a Somali extra-territorial jurisdiction court in the Tanzanian city of Arusha to deal just with piracy cases.

Jack Lang, the Special Adviser on Legal Issues related to Piracy, told reporters the estimated costs of setting up a court would be around 25 million dollars.

This, he pointed out, was “a relatively modest expense compared to the estimated seven billion dollars” that is the current cost of piracy, including the multi-million-dollar ransoms extracted by pirates in the high seas.

Lang said the costs of the international component of the proposed budget, primarily to train judges, prosecutors, lawyers and prison guards, should be borne not only by the United Nations but also the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and other regional and international organisations.

At a meeting of the Security Council Tuesday, Puri was forceful in singling out the dangers of piracy to his own country.

As a country with a coastline of over 7,500 kilometres, he said, criminal activities in international waters pose a serious threat to India. A large volume of India’s trade passes through the Gulf of Aden, estimated at about 110 billion dollars annually. And about 24 Indian-flagged merchant ships transit the Gulf of Aden every month, he said.

Moreover, more than six percent of seafarers engaged in international shipping companies are Indian nationals.

“We, therefore, have a strong interest in ensuring the security of maritime traffic off the Somali coast, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea,” Puri declared.

Last year, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told delegates the growing problem of piracy off the Somali coast demands more than just military efforts.

He specifically called for simultaneous action on three fronts: deterrence, security and the rule of law, and means to combat the scourge.

Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Stephen Mathias has pointed out that at least two international conventions may be relevant in battling piracy: the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

In the case of Somalia, he said, legal measures were complemented by several Security Council resolutions.

Last November, the Security Council renewed, for an additional 12 months, the authorisations granted to U.N. member states and regional organisations cooperating with Somalia’s transitional government in fighting piracy off that country’s coast.

These include the right to enter Somali territorial waters and use all necessary means in seizing and disposing of boats, vessels, arms and related equipment used for piracy.

Puri drew attention to the disturbing fact that Somali pirates are operating further and further from the Somali coast.

The shift of attacks to the south and east of the Indian Ocean reflects the pirates’ ability to adapt in order to bypass the security corridor established by naval forces and to extend their reach to approximately 1,000-1,200 miles from Somali Coast, he said.

“Piracy has also got more sophisticated and become an organised and lucrative activity,” he added.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, Puri said, a record number of people, about 1,181 sailors, were taken hostage by pirates worldwide in 2010, of which the Somali attacks account for 1,016 hostages.

Currently, Somali pirates are holding 28 ships with more than 638 crew members on board. Last year, 53 ships were hijacked worldwide, of which 49 were hijacked by Somali pirates.

Compared to 2009, there was a 10 percent increase in the number of pirate attacks in 2010, the total number being 445, Puri noted.

He also said that studies by different think tanks say that maritime piracy costs the global economy anywhere between seven billion and 12 billion dollars a year.

“These figures are cause for a major concern for the international community,” he declared.

As a founder-member of the ‘Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia’ (CGPCS), India has remained fully engaged in the efforts of the group to share information, coordinate actions of navies in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden, raising public and merchant marine awareness and, examining legal and criminal justice issues with respect to apprehended pirates.

Further, the Indian Navy has proactively cooperated with other navies through the SHADE (Shared Awareness and De- confliction) mechanism and otherwise, Puri added.

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