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Watchdog Group Says Somalia Still Remains Hot Spot for Piracy

22 January 2007

Piracy attacks are falling worldwide but hot spots remain, including in Somalia where the removal of the Islamic government set back efforts to curb the problem, a watchdog said Monday. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

The director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau, Captain Pottengal Mukundan, tells VOA his organization is watching Somalia closely now that the Union of Islamic Courts, or UIC, has been ousted.

"When the UIC were in control of the southern part of Somalia, the number of attacks had come right down," he said. "There was one case of a vessel which was hijacked in which the UIC acted very decisively and arrested the pirates and had the vessel returned to its rightful owners, which was a significant move of the kind we have not seen in Somalia for many years."

Mukundan says that, within days of the Islamists' removal, pirates tried to attack an American bulk carrier, but were unsuccessful.

He says he does not want to see a return to the days where the waters off the Somali coast were among the most dangerous in the world.

"Our hope is this time that the interim government will be able to exercise proper authority and stop these kind of attacks," said Mukundan. "I think they need to crack down very quickly the first time an attack takes places on a vessel. If they don't do that, then the militias may feel that this is an activity which is allowed, and they can get away with it."

Piracy has been a big problem in Somali waters, prompting the International Maritime Bureau to issue warnings to ships throughout the years.

By the end of November 2005, there had been at least 28 piracy incidents that have occurred off Somalia's coast.

Warlords and their militias had used piracy as a source of income. In a previous interview with VOA, Harjit Kelley, a retired commander with the Kenyan navy, estimated that pirates had collected well over $1 million in ransom over the last few months of 2005, and said factional leaders were coordinating the effort.

The Somali government has argued that it lacks the resources and organization to crack down on piracy, and has called on the international community to do so.

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