Pirate attacks and abductions in the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters are on the rise. Recent weeks have tragically illustrated the impact of these crimes, from the February 22 murder of four Americans aboard the S/V QUEST and the killing of a Filipino crew member aboard a merchant vessel M/V BELUGA NOMINATION to the abduction of a Danish family from their yacht, to the continued captivity of hundreds more merchant mariners along with their vessels by gangs operating in areas of Somalia's coast outside of effective government control.
Earlier this week, I traveled to the United Nations in New York to lead the U.S. delegation at a meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia: a group of more than 60 nations and international organizations working together not only to combat piracy at sea, but also to support parallel diplomatic efforts to address the root cause of piracy: continued instability on land in Somalia.
In January 2009, the United States helped to establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which meets frequently to coordinate national and international counter-piracy actions. Through the Contact Group, the United States has focused on five key counter-piracy challenges:
- Coordinating multi-national naval patrols off the Horn of Africa, in partnership with more than 20 nations, including naval ships from Combined Task Force 151, EUNAVFOR's Operation ATALANTA, and NATO's Operation OCEAN SHIELD, as well as naval ships on national tasking from several nations, including Russia, China, India, and Japan;
- Developing and promoting effective self-protection measures to discourage pirates from boarding vessels, with support from the shipping industry and the International Maritime Organization;
- Bringing pirates to justice by prosecuting suspected pirates and incarcerating those convicted, and encouraging other nations to do so as well;
- Discouraging the payment of ransoms, which only encourages further pirate attacks; and
- Developing ways to disrupt the pirates' financial networks, using tools similar to those used effectively against other forms of transnational organized crime.
But as the United States and its Contact Group partners have taken action, the pirates have adapted, shifting their tactics in even more dangerous new directions.
Pirates are increasingly using seized vessels as floating bases, keeping the abducted crews aboard as hostages. These "mother ships" allow pirates to stage attacks far away from multinational patrol routes. The pirates are rapidly recruiting additional gunmen as well -- including boys as young as 12 years old. As a result, the world witnessed the highest number of pirate attacks and hostages taken on record in 2010.
In a communique following the meeting, the Contact Group called for a renewed international commitment to by:
- Reinforcing international naval patrols;
- Expanding the capacity of the international community to prosecute suspected pirates captured at sea, as well as their leaders and financiers, through national prosecutions and innovative additional mechanisms, including the development and sharing of information on enabling networks providing arms, equipment, and funding to pirate gangs.
- Intensifying implementation of a full range of industry-developed self-protection measures by ship owners and operators;
- Strengthening the capacity of Somalia and other countries in the region to combat piracy on their own, in particular through contributions to the UN Trust Fund Supporting Initiatives of States Combating Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.
At the same time, we recognize that continued long-term diplomatic engagement in Somalia will be essential to making progress in countering piracy. Until good governance, stability, and a measure of economic development prevail on land, which may take years, piracy will continue to threaten shipping and recreational sailing in the region. To this end, even as counter piracy efforts treat the symptoms at sea, the United States is committed to supporting the Transitional Federal Government and engaging with other actors on land who also want to discourage this criminal enterprise that is interfering with political reconciliation and economic recovery from decades of civil war in Somalia.
Somali piracy is an organized criminal enterprise that has the potential to significantly impact global trade. Its root cause is state failure in Somalia, and cannot be resolved exclusively through military means. As Secretary Clinton recently said, we need to do more to combat the scourge of piracy, and we are committed to doing so.