Ransom payments to Somali pirates have contributed to an increase in piracy and the use of more sophisticated methods by seafaring marauders, according to the State Department's top expert on counter-piracy.
Pirates increasingly are kidnapping the entire crews of hijacked commercial vessels, which they then use as "mother ships" to hold their hostages and resupply smaller attack vessels, said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.
The average ransom is between $4 million to $12 million per incident, and the total paid in ransom to pirates in 2011 was $135 million, he noted.
"Piracy, as a result, has gone from a fairly ad hoc disorganized criminal endeavor to a highly developed transnational criminal enterprise," Mr. Shapiro said at a seminar on the impact of piracy on commercial shipping. "In short, they have developed a successful business model that is hard to break."
The seminar was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Shapiro said that, as of early March, eight ships and at least 230 crew were being held by pirates.
"The challenge posed by piracy off the coast of Somalia is immense and represents a major threat to regional security and the global economy," he said.
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