Solution for Piracy ‘Scourge’ Remains Elusive

The international maritime community has worked together on a number of issues to beat back the threat from Somali-based pirates, a U.S. State Department official said March 30, yet the number of attacks continues to rise.

“We are intensely reviewing our anti-piracy efforts,” Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary for political-military affairs, told a Washington audience. “We are looking into many possible courses of action.”

Shapiro ticked off several areas where the U.S. is searching for new or expanded actions.

“We must get a handle on the prosecution problem,” he said. “The United States is now willing to consider pursuing some creative and innovative ways to go beyond ordinary national prosecutions, and enhance our ability to prosecute and incarcerate pirates in a timely and cost-effective manner.”

In international forums, the U.S. is suggesting the creation of a “specialized piracy court or chamber” – in one or more regional states -to bring accused pirates to trial, Shapiro said, and is exploring ways “to expand incarceration capacity in the region.”

The “lack of prison capacity is perhaps the most common reason nations decline to prosecute,” he added, while the idea of a piracy court has been put forward in the Security Council at the United Nations.

A key focus, he said, is “to start targeting the higher financiers who are responsible” for the pirate gangs. “That is something we are going to make a priority.”

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from in the organized crime example that we think are applicable to pirates,” Shapiro told a reporter after his address, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The goal is to move the necessary resources and lessons learned to attack the people who are benefiting from this.”

Shapiro noted the effectiveness of privately hired armed guards on board merchant ships in deterring the pirates. “Not a single ship employing armed guards has been successfully pirated,” he said.

Ships declining to comply with recommended security measures are particularly at risk, Shapiro said. “About 20 percent of ships off the Horn of Africa are not taking proper security actions. These 20 percent account for the overwhelming number of pirated ships.”

Ransom payments encourage pirates to continue their activities, Shapiro said. “We continue to urge against paying ransom,” he said, noting it only “makes piracy an increasingly lucrative proposition.”

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