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Piracy On The Rise, But Successful Attacks Decline

Successful pirate attacks have declined in 2011 compared to the previous year despite a slight increase in the overall number of attempted attacks.

This was disclosed by U.S. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Andrew J. Shapiro while delivering remarks on piracy off the Horn of Africa at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.

In light of the growing difficulties at sea, pirates now show a tendency to shift to targeting hostages on land, such as with the captured American and Danish aid workers. Shapiro called on the maritime industry and the international community to remain constantly vigilant in assessing the effectiveness of self-protection measures.

Currently, over 1,000 pirates are in custody in 20 countries around the world, most are or will be convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

He said that as part of its counter-piracy approach, the United States was currently supporting efforts to increase prison capacity in Somalia; develop a framework for prisoner transfers so convicted pirates serve their sentence back in their home country of Somalia; and to establish a specialized piracy chamber in the national courts of one or more regional states.

Last year, a new maximum security prison opened in northern Somalia to hold convicted pirates. In February, the government of the Seychelles accepted 15 pirates captured from the Iranian fishing vessel for prosecution.

Nevertheless, the capacity and willingness to prosecute and incarcerate pirates are limited. Countries in the region that might be able and otherwise willing to prosecute Somali pirates in their national courts often decline to do so because they do not want to take dozens of Somali pirates into their already overburdened prison systems.

Shapiro said under a new strategy adopted last year, the United States was using "all of the tools at our disposal" to disrupt pirate networks and their financial flows.

Heavy ransoms that are paid out make the kidnapping-for-ransom industry incredibly lucrative, Shapiro told the meeting. The average ransom is now $4.5 million per incident and has reached as much as $12 million.

Pirate organizers receive income both from investors and ransom payments, and disburse a portion of the proceeds of ransoms back to these investors. Already, the United States has indicted and is prosecuting two alleged Somali pirate negotiators.

The Contact Group recently validated the importance of this approach and formed a new working group to assist in multilateral coordination to disrupt the pirate enterprise ashore. Washington is working to connect law enforcement communities, intelligence agencies, financial experts, and its international partners to promote information sharing and develop actionable information against pirate conspirators. This effort will include tracking pirate sources of financing and supplies, such as fuel, outboard motors, and weapons, Shapiro said.

by RTT Staff Writer

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