- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Two main piracy networks are operating in fishing communities on Somalia’s coast, holding ships for millions of dollars in ransom despite increased international anti-piracy efforts, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday.

The networks are based in the breakaway northeastern region of Puntland, where the most important pirate group is located in Eyl district, and in the central Mudug region, where pirates operate mainly from the fishing village of Xarardheere, he said.

“It is widely acknowledged that some of these groups now rival established Somali authorities in terms of their military capabilities and resource,” Ban said.

Somalia is a failed state, beset by 18 years of anarchy, violence and an Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing. The departure in December of Ethiopian troops who had been protecting the fragile, U.N.-backed government left a dangerous power vacuum.

In a report to the Security Council, the U.N. chief said there is a “critical need” to tackle the problem of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia in a coordinated way _ by promoting political reconciliation and the establishment of an effective government, supporting African Union peacekeeping efforts, and strengthening law enforcement institutions.

He encouraged U.N. members to help promote development and good government in Puntland and another breakaway region, Somaliland.

Ban noted that the International Maritime Bureau reported an unprecedented 11 percent worldwide increase in piracy and armed robbery at sea in 2008. Of the 293 incidents worldwide, 111 occurred off the coast of Somalia _ “an annual increase of nearly 200 percent in the critical trade corridor linking the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean,” he said.

In the first two months of 2009, he said, there have been seven reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the Somali region.

“It is reported that the most prominent pirate militias today have their roots in the fishing communities of the Somali coast, especially in northeastern and central Somalia, and that their organization reflects Somali clan-based social structures,” the secretary-general said.

At the end of 2008, he said, the Eyl group in Puntland was holding six vessels and their crews hostage “and was expected to have earned approximately US$30 million in ransom payments.”

The Mudug piracy network held the arms-laden MV Faina and three other ships for about five months, from September until February, Ban said. Viktor Pinchuk, a top Ukrainian businessman, said earlier this month he helped pay a $3.2 million ransom to free the Faina and its 20 sailors.

To combat the pirates, Ban said U.N. member states, individually and collectively, are patrolling off the Somali coast, while the Gulf of Aden “is currently being patrolled by one of the largest anti-piracy flotillas in modern history.”

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