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US Seeking Better, More Comprehensive Anti-Piracy Approach

The Pentagon spokesman says senior U.S. officials are looking for better ways to address the piracy off the east coast of Africa. But he says the problem needs a broader approach, perhaps involving military tactics but also government policies, international agreements and action by shipping companies. VOA's Catherine Cannon reports from the Pentagon.

The Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says senior officials are constantly evaluating how to best deal with the pirates, who he says are currently holding 18 ships and 330 hostages in the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen.

"This is a problem that has elevated to the highest levels of the government," he said. "It's one that we take very, very seriously and it's one that we are looking to try to find the best solution possible, and if that means adjusting our tactics, we will do so."

The White House says President Bush has been briefed on the problem and the United States is working with other nations to strengthen anti-piracy efforts. But the Pentagon spokesman takes issue with the notion that military force alone can solve the problem.

"Don't look at this solely through the prism of 'what more can the U.S. Navy do? And why isn't the U.S. Navy being more aggressive?' We have an obligation to protect international shipping lanes, and that is our first and foremost priority, but the companies, the shipping companies, also have an obligation to secure their ships," he said.

Morrell says a comprehensive approach to solving the piracy problem should also include action by the Somali government with help from the international community.

The Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. Navy and the eight other navies in the coalition task force in the Gulf of Aden are active in trying to deter piracy. On Wednesday, an Indian ship sank a pirate ship in the Gulf. But he notes that the waterway is 2.8 million square kilometers in size.

He also says if the navies are going to arrest more pirates there needs to be an international system to put them on trial and punish them.

"We need to figure out a more global systemic agreement on how to deal with pirates once caught," said Morrell.

Morrell says British forces recently arranged for a group of captured pirates to be held and tried in Kenya, but that was a one-time arrangement.

Although coalition navies continue to patrol the Gulf, U.S. officials say the number of attempted hijackings has increased to 95 so far this year. But they say the success rate dropped sharply last month. Overall, the Pentagon says there have been 39 successful pirate hijackings in the Gulf of Aden this year.

Some shipping companies are changing their routes to avoid the Gulf altogether, but Morrell says that is not the answer to this problem.

"In scenarios like that, pirates win, and they should not be allowed to win," he said.

Morrell says the Pentagon is particularly concerned about the Saudi supertanker hijacked Saturday with 100 million barrels of oil on board and a ship seized in September carrying a cargo of weapons.

He also called for the renewal of a United Nations resolution authorizing anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast, which expires in two weeks.