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UN: Somali Piracy Threat Outpacing Efforts to Stop It

UN political chief Lynn Pascoe speaks during a press conference at the UNDP office in Beijing, Feb 2010 (file photo)

The top U.N. political officer warned Tuesday that acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia are outpacing international efforts to stop them. Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council that more needs to be done to tackle the root causes of piracy and to deter it.

According to the International Maritime Organization, 20 ships - and more than 438 sailors and passengers - are being held by pirates.

U.N. political chief Lynn Pascoe warns that Somali pirates, driven by a lack of legitimate economic opportunities, are taking greater risks and seeking higher ransoms.

"The Somali people, especially the youth, need greater incentives not to succumb to the lure of the pirate economy," said Pascoe. "As long as piracy is so lucrative, with ransom payments adding up to tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, and other economic incentives so bleak, the economic imperative is very obvious."

He said economic rehabilitation and the creation of alternative livelihoods, especially the development and rehabilitation of coastal fisheries, must be at the center of international efforts to fight piracy.

Pascoe stressed that establishing security and the rule of law also are important elements to combating piracy. He urged strengthening of Somalia's police and the creation of a coast guard or coastal monitoring capability.

"We need to continue to fight this battle in the broadest manner, focusing simultaneously on deterrence, security and the rule of law, as well as providing economic alternatives for Somali youth. We must also make piracy and robbery off the coast of Somalia costly by addressing impunity and building the capacity of the Transitional Federal Government to expand its authority and deal with law and order."

The head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov, said efforts to prosecute pirates are growing and succeeding. "With the support of the international community, more than 700 suspected and convicted pirates are in detention in 12 countries. More than half of these are in Somalia itself."

Fedotov commended Kenya, which has taken the lead in regional prosecutions, as well as the Seychelles, for their efforts. He said Tanzania, Mauritius and the Maldives also have expressed interest in helping to prosecute suspected pirates.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has grown as the country continues to lack a strong central government and is mired in fighting with Islamist rebels who seek to topple it.