Twenty-four nations pledged on Wednesday at a US-led meeting to better coordinate their efforts against Somali piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Diplomats met privately at UN headquarters for the first time to talk about how to fight the rise of piracy off Somalia’s lawless coastline, where 11 vessels with 210 crew members are now in pirate hands.
“So much of this is synchronization and adding on to the great work that our sailors from, at this point, 16 different nations on the water are conducting,” the group’s chairman, US Assistant Secretary of State Mark Kimmitt, told reporters after the nearly day-long meeting.
“We believe that 2009 will be a year where we can turn this problem around if we come together as a group of nations, working not simply the military aspect, but the judicial aspect, the financial aspect, the industry aspect,” he said.
Kimmitt, who deals with political and military affairs, told reporters that so far, officials have found “no links” showing that the pirates are working for any established terrorist groups.
Most are believed to be former Somali fishermen.
But during the closed-door meeting, Kimmitt said there is “a sense, not fully developed” among US counter-piracy officials that there should be more focus on where the money is coming from to finance the pirates’ operations.
He suggested that pirates might be receiving financing by “external” or some other “private groups” that are helping pay for intelligence, logistics, GPS and communications devices.
The meeting was also presided over by representatives of Yemen, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Spain and Somalia.
In related news, Japan will send a warship to the pirate-infested waters off Somalia as early as April, the Nikkei Shimbun reported yesterday, as shipping industry leaders pressed the government to take immediate action.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso will authorize a plan within the month for a destroyer to head to the waters off the lawless African nation, the report said, citing unnamed sources.
Asked about the report, a defense ministry spokeswoman said no timeline had been decided.
Meanwhile, pirates holding a Ukrainian cargo ship loaded with tanks have sacked Somali middlemen trying to secure its release and are negotiating directly with the owners, an associate of the gang said yesterday.
The MV Faina was carrying 33 Soviet-era T-72 tanks and other weapons when it was seized in September. The pirates initially demanded a US$20 million ransom, lowered to US$5 million.
Osman Farah, an onshore associate of the gang on the Faina, said his colleagues now expected more than US$5 million after they sacked the middlemen negotiating on their behalf.
“Somali brokers had been delaying the process by reporting only half, or less, of the ransom being offered,” Farah said by telephone from the coastal town of Haradheere.
The Faina’s owners could not immediately be reached for comment.