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UN Piracy Chief: More Countries Should Help Kenya Try Pirates

The United Nations Secretary General's special advisor on piracy legal issues Jack Lang, from France, right, listens to an unidentified suspected Somali pirate, on remand, at the Shimo la Tewa GK Prison in Mombasa, Kenya, 11 Oct 2010
The United Nations Secretary General's special advisor on piracy legal issues Jack Lang, from France, right, listens to an unidentified suspected Somali pirate, on remand, at the Shimo la Tewa GK Prison in Mombasa, Kenya, 11 Oct 2010


Michael Onyiego

With piracy on the rise off the east-African coast, a top U.N. advisor has called for the international community to ease the burden placed on Kenya to try and jail convicted hijackers.  The statement comes just weeks after Kenya announced its international agreements to detain Somali pirates had expired.

During a brief stop in Nairobi, the U.N. secretary general's special adviser on piracy issues, Jack Lang, weighed in Tuesday on Kenya's reluctance to try any more piracy suspects captured in the Indian Ocean.  Lang told reporters that Kenya has provided an example in dealing with the growing problem of piracy, and urged the international community to provide better support to the east African nation.

The Special Adviser's stop was part of a three-month tour begun in August to investigate new ways to deal with the increasing numbers of hijackers launching from the Somali coast.

Kenya, along with the Seychelles, is the only country in east Africa that has agreed to prosecute pirates captured in the Indian Ocean by international patrols.  Kenya has signed agreements with the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, European Union, Denmark and China to try suspected pirates in return for support, but the country increasingly complained it is facing the burden alone.

The move to hold Somali pirates also has been unpopular among Kenya's politicians, who argue the agreements placed excessive costs and security risks squarely on Kenya's shoulders.

The Director of the Seafarer's Assistance Program in East Africa, Andrew Mwangura, said the agreements diverted resources from Kenya's already strained court system.  "In Mombasa Courts we have got only 11 court prosecutors," said Mwangura.  "And these prosecutors have to carry other cases, like murder cases, robbery crime and domestic violence.  Apart from that, Kenya has got a backlog of about 185,000 cases countrywide.  And also, there is parliament, because they are using taxpayer's money to keep these people in our prisons."

On September 30th, the Kenyan government announced the agreements to try pirates had expired and it would no longer accept pirates.  Western countries have been negotiating with Kenya to renew the deal, but officials have not specified publicly what Kenya needs to receive to continue trying suspects.

Since 2009, Kenya has convicted an estimated 43 pirates and holds about 100 more.  Despite the expiration of the agreements, Kenya has continued to take on pirates captured in the past two weeks.

The United States Navy transferred nine Somali's into Kenyan custody Tuesday after capturing them last month in the Gulf of Aden.

In Nairobi, Lang called for new ideas to deal with the issue of piracy, and he called on new partners to detain and prosecute suspected pirates.

The Special Adviser is visiting the region amidst a rise in hijackings in recent weeks.  On Sunday, Somali pirates hijacked a Japanese cargo ship off the coast of Kenya along with 20 members of the crew.  At least 61 sailors have been captured by Somali pirates since the last week of September.

Somalia has not had a functioning government for more than 20 years.  Lang said any solution to the piracy problem would have to involve a commitment to stability in Somalia.

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