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UN: Kenya Agrees to Plan for Maritime Pirate Police

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says Kenya has agreed to help launch a new strategy for combatting piracy off the coast of Somalia. The proposal calls for police from the Horn of Africa to deploy on international warships to arrest Somali pirates at sea and bring them ashore for trial.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime is seeking U.S. congressional support for a new plan to prosecute Somali pirates who frequently hijack commercial ships off the Horn of Africa.

The agency's executive director, Antonio Maria Costa, says international warships ideally should send pirates to their home country for trial. But, in testimony to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Thursday, he said Somalia's lack of a legal system rules that out.

"We are left with basically two options: bringing pirates to the court system of the country that seized them," Costa said. "Since the waters are being patrolled by European vessels, Chinese vessels, obviously United States vessels and so forth, we are talking about distances of tens of thousands of kilometers. The only option left is to bring pirates immediately to courts in countries on the shores of the Indian Ocean."

'Ship riders' would deliver pirates to Kenya for trial

During a recess at the hearing, Costa told VOA Kenya has agreed to a proposal he made in December to deploy police on international warships to arrest captured pirates. The police, or "ship riders," would then deliver the pirates to Kenya for trial.

The U.N. official said other Horn of Africa countries may join the effort, including Tanzania, Djibouti, Eritrea and Yemen. But, he said the plan will not work without international support.

"The African countries in the region from where the ship riders would come are interested in economic assistance and development help, so as to strengthen the judicial system," Costa said. "Obviously, a ship rider mechanism works only if there is an adequate judicial system on shore to deal with the pirate suspects."

UN anti-crime agency working with Kenya to train lawyers

At the hearing, Costa said the U.N. anti-crime agency is working with Kenya to train lawyers and improve prison conditions for about 100 pirates awaiting trial. He urged the lawmakers to provide more funds to his agency to help it expand the program to other countries.

U.S Representative Bill Delahunt, a Democrat, said he supports boosting legal aid to Kenya to help it arrest and prosecute pirates. But, he said in the long-term, such cases should be handled by an international court.

"What I am looking for is a body of jurisprudence with a particular venue that would obviate, or eliminate, the differences between nation states. And I think it is important to move quickly and firmly," he said.

In recent weeks, Portuguese, Greek and Canadian warships have released pirates captured off Somalia because of uncertainties about where to send them. The Obama administration says pirates should be brought to justice and that freeing them sends a bad signal.

The United States and European Union have agreements with Kenya to send pirates captured by their forces to Kenyan courts for trial. France transferred 11 Somali suspects to Kenya earlier this month, and Spain said this week it plans to do the same with 13 other Somalis.