New York: Somali pirates are expanding their attacks and costing the world more than USD 7 billion a year, according to a UN study that calls for stepped up security and a pirate court.
The report by former French minister Jack Lang suggests establishing a court under Somali jurisdiction but based in a foreign country in order to address the phenomenon, which has grown in recent years.
It said the international naval force in the Indian Ocean should patrol closer to the pirates` coastal hideouts and that economic incentives should be offered to Somali youth to dissuade them from joining the buccaneers.
Somali pirates have captured nearly 2,000 people and been paid ransoms of up to USD 9.5 million for seized tankers since 2008. As of December 31, 612 people and 26 ships were still being held, according to UN figures.
"The battle is being won by the pirates," Lang told reporters.
"They are going further out into the Indian Ocean and with more high-tech equipment to help them."
The pirates are even taking counterfeit bank note detectors out to sea to check ransoms, the report said.
Lang`s report, to be debated by the UN Security Council on Tuesday, said pirate raids are now costing at least USD 7 billion a year, a sum that includes the military force, lost merchandise, ransom fees and higher insurance.
"If the international community does not act with extreme urgency, the pirate economy off the coast of Somalia will continue to prosper until it reaches the point of no return," the report said.
Dozens of warships from the European Union, the United States, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea and other countries patrol the Indian Ocean shipping lanes off Somalia. Even Iran takes part.
Some 780 pirates are currently being held in 13 countries, but nine out of 10 pirates caught at sea by the international fleet are freed almost straight away because there is nowhere to try them.
Lang said all countries should adopt legislation so they can handle pirates who have committed acts outside their territory, in addition to establishing the extra-territorial Somali court.
Tanzania has indicated it would be ready to accept such a court, Lang`s entourage said. It could perhaps use the same facilities as the UN-backed international court on Rwanda, which sits in Arusha.
A similar system was used for the trial of the Libyan bombers of the Pan-Am jet blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. Under a deal with Libya, the Scottish court sat in the Netherlands.
Lang`s report said the cost of the court, new prisons and other measures to strengthen Somalia`s judicial system would be about USD 25 million, a tiny fraction of today`s piracy losses.
Puntland and Somaliland, the two regions in lawless Somalia where most pirates are based, would need major economic aid to encourage young people not to join what Lang called the pirate "mafia”.
The report said the international flotilla should operate "as close as possible" to the Somali coast in order to intercept the pirates` mother ships, which can only dock in a few known ports to get supplies.
It also said greater efforts must be made to make shipping companies take anti-piracy precautions suggested by the International Maritime Organization, including setting up barbed wire command centres on ships in risky areas, special crew training and enhanced communication systems.