Clinton unveils US plan to fight piracy

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a four-point plan to fight piracy, calling for prosecution and freezing of assets, as well as "[cracking] down on companies that do business with pirates."


AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan Wednesday to fight piracy, calling for prosecution and freezing pirates' assets with the support of Washington's international partners.

She vowed to call for "immediate" meetings of the Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) 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 added that she was also sending an envoy to the April 23 Somali donors conference in Brussels 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 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 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," the chief US diplomat said.

With the outlaws "clearly using ransom money for both their personal benefit and for piracy, she added there are "ways to crack down on companies that do business with pirates."

Clinton expressed alarm at the continuing attacks.

Late Tuesday Somali pirates attacked an American freighter with rockets to "destroy" the ship in revenge for an operation that freed a US captain last weekend, one of their commanders said Wednesday.

The freighter escaped the attack late Tuesday, but more vessels have fallen into the hands of marauding Somali bandits. A French warship meanwhile intercepted a pirate "mother ship" and arrested 11 gunmen, the French defence ministry said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is to study ways of combating pirates terrorizing seas off the coast of Somalia, spokesman Bryan Whitman said 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 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 January 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 TFG, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Yemen.

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