US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday unveiled a plan to fight piracy, while the US captain rescued in a dramatic operation after days of being held hostage off Somalia arrived in Kenya yesterday.
Clinton vowed to call for “immediate” meetings of the Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia to discuss the four-point plan that also calls for strategies to secure the release of ships and crews held by pirates.
The chief US diplomat said she was also sending an envoy to the Somali donors conference in Brussels next Thursday to improve the situation in lawless Somalia and help implement the plan.
“These pirates are criminals, they are armed gangs on the sea,” Clinton told reporters. “And those plotting attacks must be stopped, and those who have carried them out must be brought to justice.”
She also dismissed suggestions that international efforts to end the poverty and lawlessness in Somalia — the root cause of the piracy — were now being ignored to fight the symptom.
“So it’s not that they have been forgotten or even separated,” Clinton said.
“You’ve got to put out the fire before you can rebuild the house. And, right now, we have a fire raging,” Clinton said.
“The critical mass of hijackings and kidnappings has risen dramatically, in part because the pirates got better vessels and could go further out to sea, and they began to use mother ships,” she said, adding that they are “more sophisticated.”
Clinton also dismissed suggestions that it would be difficult to track the ill-gotten gain of pirates operating out of Somalia, where state institutions have collapsed in the last two decades.
“We track and freeze and try to disrupt the assets of many stateless groups,” including Islamist terrorists, Clinton said.
“We notice pirates are buying more and more sophisticated equipment ... buying faster and more capable vessels,” she said.
With the outlaws “clearly using ransom money for both their personal benefit and for piracy, she said there were “ways to crack down on companies that do business with pirates.”
The Pentagon is to study ways of combating pirates terrorizing seas off the coast of Somalia, spokesman Bryan Whitman said on Wednesday, stressing a military solution was not the only one.
A US-led task force is already operating in the region in a bid to halt a spate of attacks by the pirates.
Whitman said the problem had to be addressed “on a multitude of levels, one of them is maritime operations to discourage that activity, others are the evasive actions of the crew to prevent their ship from being hijacked.”
The contact group on piracy was established under a UN Security Council Resolution on Jan. 14 to coordinate actions among states and organizations to suppress piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Participating countries include Australia, China, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, the Netherlands, Oman, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the UK, the US and Yemen.
Sources close to the pirates have said French ships are now also a prime target after French commandos recently stormed a yacht on which two French couples and a child were held. One male hostage and two pirates were killed.
The French navy on Wednesday also intercepted a pirate “mother ship” in the Gulf of Aden and detained 11 fighters, the French defense ministry said.