U.S. Warns Against Paying Ransom to Pirates

The United States called Wednesday for intensified efforts to combat piracy and warned against paying ransom to free ships and crew members.

U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo expressed concern that ransom payments have contributed to the recent increase in piracy.

The United States is encouraging all countries to adopt a policy of "no concessions" when dealing with "hostage-takers, including pirates," she said.

DiCarlo spoke at an open meeting of the U.N. Security Council Wednesday which was considering a new report from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the fight against piracy.

The previously scheduled meeting coincided with Wednesday's second attack by Somali pirates in seven months against the U.S.-flagged ship the Maersk Alabama, which was thwarted by private guards onboard, and payment of a $3.3 million ransom to Somali pirates on Tuesday to free a Spanish trawler and its 36 crew members.

According to Ban's report, stepped up international action to tackle ship seizures off the Somali coast is forcing pirates into the Indian Ocean and more recently closer to the Seychelles — but the number of attacks is still increasing.

During 2008, the International Maritime Organization reported 306 incidents of piracy and armed robbery worldwide, 136 of them in East Africa. In the first nine months of 2009, 300 incidents were reported, including 160 in the East Africa area, the report said.

"The United States believes that the international community must continue and intensify efforts to combat piracy," DiCarlo said.

She said it is "essential" that the council renews authorization for countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters, with advance notice, and use "all necessary means" to stop acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea — and to authorize nations to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases on the coast of the Horn of Africa country. The council is expected to consider new resolutions before these authorizations expire next month.

DiCarlo said the international community must continue focusing on bringing peace, political stability and economic development to Somalia because "piracy is closely linked to instability, weak governance and the rule of law, and the lack of opportunity on land."

The United States is also calling for stepped up sharing of information and best practices to combat piracy, she said.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said military commanders "are shocked" that a quarter of the merchant shipping community is failing to follow guidance from the International Maritime Organization and industry bodies on preventing pirate attacks which is making their ships "much easier targets."

Currently, he said, 11 ships and 254 crew members are being held by pirates.

Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, the top U.N. envoy for Somalia, said paying ransom to free ships and crew — as Spain is believed to have done — only provides "new resources, new capital for activities" of the pirates.

Ambassador Ronald Jumeau of the Seychelles told the Security Council that the pirates' move into the Indian Ocean has had a dramatic impact on the vast island chain, which the government is unable to protect.

Some cargo ships are now bypassing the Seychelles, maritime insurance has shot up, some cruise ships have canceled voyages around the islands, and private yachting is on the decline, he said.

"All this has helped push up prices and the cost of living," Jumeau said.

The Seychelles government has allowed the United States to station unmanned drones on the islands to assist military surveillance aircraft "to seek out pirates and alert naval forces and international shipping as to their whereabouts."