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Two thousand ten will mark nearly 2 decades in which pirates operating out of Somalia have preyed on international shipping off the Horn of Africa, one of the world's busiest trade routes. In recent years, anti-piracy naval operations led by the United States, and including vessels from the European Union, NATO, and several individual nations including China and India, have helped to reduce the success rate of pirate attacks, and have forced some of the raiders to operate at ever greater distances from shore to evade the patrols.
To justify their actions, some of the pirates have said that they are protecting Somali fishing grounds, which have been depleted, they say, by illegal fishing by other nations. This is a smoke screen for simple criminal behavior.
Some of the raiders now operate 1,000 miles or more from the Somali coast, far from the country's fishing grounds. They attack private yachts, passenger cruise liners, and commercial vessels such as tankers and container ships that are certainly not involved in fishing. Moreover, many of the pirates are financed by criminals who hope to share in the millions of dollars in ransom that is demanded for the hostages taken when a ship is seized.
Rather than protecting Somalia and its people, the pirates have harmed millions of Somalis and others throughout East Africa by interrupting the shipment of badly needed food aid. Some vital humanitarian cargoes have even been seized in pirate attacks.
Somali piracy's roots in fact are not at sea at all, but rather in the fighting and political instability found ashore.
The United States supports a comprehensive approach to address the poverty, governance and instability in Somalia that are conducive to piracy. This includes strategies for economic development, pressuring local governance to act against known pirate havens onshore, supporting environmental conservation and fisheries management. Ultimately, restoring the rule of law will help the Somali Transitional Federal Government to bring pirates and other armed criminals to justice.