U.N. Resolution Introduced to Battle Pirates Off Somalia

Responding to a spate of recent attacks, the United States and France introduced a U.N. resolution Monday that would allow countries to chase pirates off Somalia's coast into the country's territorial waters and arrest the sea thieves.

The draft Security Council resolution expresses deep alarm at the increase in acts of piracy and armed robbery that pose a grave threat "to the safety of commercial maritime routes and to international navigation as a while."

It "condemns and deplores all acts of piracy and armed robbery against vessels in territorial and international waters off the coast of Somalia." It cites the hijacking off Somalia of the Panamanian-flagged vessel Fiesty Gas on April 10, the French-flagged passenger ship Le Ponant on April 4, the Spanish fishing vessel Playa de Bakio on April 20, and the attempted hijacking of the Japanese oil tanker Takayama on April 21.

The draft resolution would authorize states, with approval from Somalia's transitional government, to enter the country's territorial waters and "to use ... all necessary means to identify, prevent, and repress actions of piracy and armed robbery."

It would allow pursing countries to engage in "boarding, searching, and seizing vessels engaged in or suspected of engaging in acts of piracy or armed robbery" for a six month period, which can be renewed.

Wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy, Somalia does not have a navy, and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control. The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region.

The U.S. and France presented the draft resolution to council members at a closed meeting Monday afternoon. It is co-sponsored by Britain and by Panama, whose flag flies on many of the world's vessels.

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert stressed that the co-sponsors want to fully respect Somalia's sovereignty and the Law of the Sea Convention, "and we want to be efficient."

"The idea is to negotiate a long time in advance the agreement with the local governments so that we can enter their territorial sea and to patrol to deter piracy which is (for) the first time," he said.

The draft resolution notes that Somalia's transitional government sent a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Nov. 9 saying it needs and would welcome international assistance to address the piracy problem. A follow-up letter on Feb. 27 requested the Security Council's "urgent assistance in security the territorial and international waters off the coast of Somalia for the safe conduct of shipping and navigation."

Ripert said "the government of Somalia told us that it agreed with the resolution."

While the draft resolution would specifically authorize action only against pirates off Somalia, Ripert said French President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted "that if we agree to start with Somalia we want then to operate in other waters if needed against piracy."

"The possibility to extend from Somalia to other places is included in the resolution," Ripert said.

The draft resolution expresses concern at reports from the International Maritime Organization providing "evidence of continuing piracy and armed robbery in regions crucial to international navigation, including the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea."

But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington wants the focus to remain on Somalia whose government "is not in a position to deal with this problem itself."

"With the authority of the Security Council, the prospect for greater help and activity to deal with this problem, which has grown and has become more urgent, will obviously improve," he said.

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo demanded to know why a second resolution on Somalia was needed.

Last week, Britain circulated a draft resolution calling for the U.N. to move its Somalia political operation to the conflict-wracked nation, step up efforts to restore peace, and keep planning for a U.N. takeover of peacekeeping from the African Union.

It calls on states and regional organizations — with the agreement of Somalia's transitional government — "to take action to protect shipping involved with the transportation and delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia and U.N.-authorized activities."

France's Ripert explained that the first resolution "is to protect humanitarian convoys — it's not against piracy" and he reiterated that Paris views it as a broader piracy resolution. France carried out an escort service for humanitarian convoys earlier this year.

The draft resolution on piracy "urges states whose naval vessels and military aircraft operate in international waters and airspace off the coast of Somalia to be vigilant to acts of piracy and armed robbery," and to cooperate with each other, the International Maritime Organization and other organizations to locate and arrest pirates.

It urges "relevant states to cooperate in determining jurisdiction in order to ensure the detention, investigation, and prosecution of persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery consistent with applicable international law..."