U.S. officials are reluctant to label a recent spike in piracy off the waters of Somalia as a trend.
"We're not ready to say there is a trend there yet, but we'll continue to watch," Marine General Thomas Waldhauser said Sunday at a news conference at a military base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti where U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was visiting.
Waldhauser suggested that drought and famine in the region had led pirates to carry out the six recent attacks on commercial ships carrying food and oil.
More than 20 million people from Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen are in danger of dying from starvation within the next six months, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
The rash of pirate attacks comes after a five-year downturn in the assaults which had grown to crisis proportions from 2010 to 2012.
Piracy "certainly has increased" said U.S. Navy Captain Richard Rodriguez.He said, however, that dealing with piracy was not a mission for his troops, who are instead focused on counterterrorism in the Horn of Africa and developing the capacities of national armies in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
VOA's Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.