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International Conference on Piracy Opens in Nairobi

The two-day conference, sponsored by the United Nations, brings together officials from more than 40 countries, as well as representatives from regional and international organizations. The first day brought together technical experts, ministerial-level meetings are scheduled for Thursday.

The conference is seeking to develop an improved approach to pursuing, arresting, and charging pirates. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime is reported to have proposed a $1.3 million program to enhance justice and law enforcement efforts in Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, and Yemen.

The meeting began just one day after the European Union outlined a new security mission off the coast of Somalia. Operation Atalanta joins existing deployments from NATO, Russia, and other countries that have sought to combat a sharp rise in piracy in the area in recent months.

Meanwhile, the German government approved a deployment of up 1,400 troops, along with a ship, for the mission. The German parliament is expected to vote on the deployment by December 19.

An official with the East African Seafarers' Association, Andrew Mwangura, said that international efforts would have little lasting impact without involving the local population in Somalia.

"If you are not going to involve the local community, it cannot achieve anything," he said.

Mwangura said a strategy to combat piracy needs to be part of a coordinated effort against other illicit activities in the region.

"If we want to stop piracy we need to fight all illegal activities in this region, because they are connected. Let us say piracy is connected to toxic dumping. Toxic dumping is connected to drug trafficking. Drug trafficking is connected to gun running. Those mafia-like businessmen are part of piracy, they do control pirate groups in Somalia. The real pirates are outside Somalia. In fact they do not go out to sea. Some of them are based in Nairobi, some are in Dubai," said Mwangura.

There have been more than 100 pirate attacks this year in the Gulf of Aden or the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Somalia, and some 40 ships have been captured. Pirates are holding more than a dozen ships, and 300 crew members, in the hopes of receiving ransom payments that can number in the millions of dollars.

Among the ships being held are a Saudi Arabian supertanker, carrying $100 million worth of oil, and a Ukrainian ship carrying more than 30 military tanks.