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US Navy Gets Tough with Pirates off Somalia

By Al Pessin
21 December 2007

The commander of U.S. forces in East Africa and the Middle East says he has ordered his naval commanders to take a tougher approach to pirates off the coast of Somalia, in an effort to help the region's economy and promote stability. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Washington.

In a year-end VOA interview, Admiral William Fallon said that, in recent months, pirates off the coast of East Africa have become bolder, attacking more and larger ships. So, he decided to do something about it.

"I have given some guidance to our naval commanders, and we've been able to get some approvals to do some things that are a little more aggressive than we had in the past We were pretty much in a passive mode," he said. "We're going to continue to operate in this area and to do everything we can to discourage this kind of activity."

U.S. navy ships recently laid siege to a pirated ship, and prevented the pirates from going ashore for supplies. They were forced to give up the vessel at what Admiral Fallon says was a reduced ransom, paid by the ship's owners. The U.S. Navy also destroyed the small boats the pirates use to get around the area off the coast of Somalia.

Admiral Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, says the piracy hurts the economy of the region because ships' captains are afraid to take their vessels through the area. And, he says, the piracy has a broader impact, too.

"It's the instability of it all," je said. "This kind of behavior, lawless behavior, if it's allowed to continue, just fosters an atmosphere of total disregard for accepted norms of behavior. And one thing leads to another, and if you allow this kind of behavior, whether it's ashore or afloat, typically there's a downward spiral. And that's what I think we've seen in this area. So, we're trying to clean up the neighborhood."

The U.S. Navy has estimated that at least 200 pirates work in the region, and until the recent crackdown, had operated a profitable criminal enterprise, stealing ships' cargos and demanding large ransoms for the return of the vessels and their crews.

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