UN adviser describes growing piracy problem

A new court system and larger prisons are needed in Somalia to combat an increasingly violent piracy problem that has seen about 2,000 people taken hostage over two years, the U.N. adviser on the problem said Tuesday.

Jack Lang, a former French culture minister, told the U.N. Security Council that piracy off Somalia's coast has grown increasingly sophisticated and dangerous, with assailants now using heavy weapons, global positioning systems, and mother ships stationed far out at sea.

Lang proposed spending $25 million, mainly to strengthen Somalia's judicial system. Currently, nine out of 10 piracy suspects in Somalia are released because of inadequate courts and prisons.

Neighboring countries also need new laws specifying piracy as a crime, he said.

Lang said piracy in the Indian Ocean costs as much as $7 billion annually, including loss of goods, increased insurance, and beefed up patrols.

Lang, who is U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's adviser on the problem, said increased economic development could help ease the problem by providing jobs for young men. Now without options, they are increasingly drawn to piracy.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia — which includes one of the world's busiest shipping lanes — has flourished since the Horn of Africa nation's government collapsed in 1991. A 20-year civil conflict has left the country in chaos, and ongoing fighting hampers humanitarian relief efforts.

A drought has worsened the situation, with hundreds of Somalis marching through the capital of Mogadishu on Tuesday to demand humanitarian aid.

The aid group Oxfam says half a million Somalis have been affected by the drought, and the U.N. says one in six children is acutely malnourished.