Piracy off the coast of Somalia remains a critical issue for the United States, the international community, and the global economy, said U.S. Principal Deputy Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Thomas Kelly. Since 2008, Somali pirates have hijacked 175 vessels and attacked at least 445 others. They have kidnapped 3,000 crew members from over 40 countries and are still holding 241 hostages today. They hijacked 27 ships last year and six already this year.
Somalia offers pirates nearly ideal conditions.
Along the coastline where pirates operate there is little governance and weak institutions provide them with safe haven. Furthermore, Somalia sits along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
In confronting piracy, the U.S. has pursued an integrated multi-dimensional approach, which has begun to turn the tide on this transnational crime. In 2009, the U.S. helped establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to promote action and coordinate efforts to suppress Somali piracy. It will also be critical to re-establish stability, responsive law enforcement, and effective governance in Somalia.
In addition to diplomatic efforts, the U.S. has taken steps to increase security at sea including the Combined Task Force 151, a multinational task force charged with conducting counter-piracy naval patrols in the region. It operates in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia, covering an area of over one million square miles.
But navies can’t be everywhere. That’s why it is necessary for the maritime industry to make ships tougher for pirates to seize. They need to proceed at full speed through high risk areas; employ physical barriers such a razor wire; post additional outlooks; report positions to military authorities; and muster the crew inside safe-rooms in a vessel under attack.
Another part of the solution is to apprehend, prosecute and incarcerate pirates and their supporters and financiers. Today, 1,100 pirates are in custody in 20 countries around the world. Through the collective efforts of the international community and the private sector, we are now seeing signs of clear progress. In 2011, the number of successful pirate attacks fell by nearly half.
There is no simple solution to ending piracy. But it is clear that the multifaceted nature of the U.S. response is making a difference.