Somalia: No Progress on Combating 'Sophisticated' Pirates

Pirates off of Somalia's coast are becoming increasingly sophisticated and even an international naval force has done little to combat the scourge off the Horn of Africa, the Somali police chief said Wednesday.

Somalia, which has had no functioning central government since 1991, is unable to police its 1,900-mile coastline, allowing gangs to target ships throughout the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest sea lanes, said Abdi Hassan Awaleh, commissioner of the Somali Police Force.

"I can't say that up to now there has been any progress about piracy," Awaleh told reporters at an Interpol conference in Singapore. "The Somali government is fragile. The police have no power to chase or control such a long coastline."

Pirates have successfully hijacked 34 ships worldwide so far this year, mostly off the Somali coast, compared to 49 during all of last year, said Mick Palmer, Australia's Inspector of Transport Security, who has been conducting an inquiry on global piracy for Australia for the last nine months.

Experts estimate each successful hijack costs shipping companies about $7 million in ransom and other fees, and nets significant bounty for the pirates that has lured organized crime syndicates, Palmer said.

"There's clear evidence of increasing organization in the activities of the pirates," Palmer said. "Their weaponry continues to get more sophisticated, and their attacks are happening farther out at sea."

He added that pirates are getting better at locating ships.

The U.S., China and Russia have sent military vessels to the Gulf of Aden this year to protect shipping lanes. Each year, some 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The European Union says it has foiled 100 pirate attacks since sending a flotilla of eight navy frigates and three maritime surveillance planes to the region in December.

"We need a joint effort from Somalia, neighboring countries, the international community and Interpol," Awaleh said. "The international community is trying. They spent a lot of money, but the result is very little."

Interpol, which is holding its annual meeting this week, is helping to prosecute captured pirates by identifying them with its international fingerprinting database and facilitating intelligence-sharing, said Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol's executive director of police services.