UN: Pirates off Somalia paid up to $30 million

Pirates plying the waters off Somalia are estimated to have netted between $25 million and $30 million in ransom this year as lawlessness and insecurity increases across the country, the U.N. chief said Wednesday.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his quarterly report to the U.N. Security Council the surge in piracy and armed robbery against ships along the Somali coast has severely affected trade, contributed to a humanitarian crisis, and further weakened the country’s transitional federal government.

From January through October, Ban said, about 65 merchant ships, with about 200 crew members each, have been hijacked off the coast of Somalia.

“It is estimated that, since the beginning of 2008, between $25 and $30 million has been paid in ransom to pirates,” the secretary-general said.

That doesn’t include the potential ransom for 17 vessels and more than 300 crew members which the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Malaysia said Wednesday were still in the hands of pirates. They include a Ukrainian ship loaded with weapons and a Saudi Arabian supertanker carrying $100 million in crude.

Ban said the global economic downturn has “has had severe repercussions on Somalia’s already troubled economy,” with the surge in piracy affecting trade so adversely the Somali shilling has depreciated by almost 80 percent.

Inflation is “unbridled,” especially in south-central Somalia where fuel prices increased by almost 170 percent and staple food prices by more than 250 percent between August 2007 and August 2008, he said.

“If local communities are not empowered with the means to earn a sustainable livelihood in the wake of growing global and local challenges, Somalia will continue to be a potential breeding ground for frustrated extremists _ a challenge to its stability, that of the region and the rest of the world,” Ban warned.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, when clan warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The current government was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations, but has failed to protect citizens from violence or the country’s poverty.

Between July and October, Ban said, “the security situation in south-central Somalia deteriorated dramatically.”

He said U.N. experts continue to note persistent violations of a U.N. arms embargo “in an environment of general lawlessness and lack of accountability.”

The Security Council is expected to approve a travel ban and asset freeze Thursday on Somali citizens, companies and organizations that violate the arms embargo, support acts threatening peace, and impede the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The secretary-general applauded an Oct. 26 cease-fire agreement between the government and some Somali opposition parties, and he welcomed Ethiopia’s readiness to withdraw its troops to support the cease-fire.

But the agreement did not include any of the hard-line opponents who have denounced any talks with the government and who are behind much of the bloodshed in Mogadishu.

The secretary-general urged all Somalis to sign on to the cease-fire agreement.

To help support the cease-fire agreement, Ban proposed that the current 3,450-strong African Union force be replaced by an international stabilization force with two multinational brigades, one of which could incorporate the AU troops. A brigade has about 3,000 troops.

Once there is “a credible, inclusive cease-fire,” Ban said, a U.N. force with 22,500 troops could take over peacekeeping duties, accompanied by international police and civilians.

On the humanitarian front, the secretary-general said the situation “continues to deteriorate drastically,” with the number of people in need of aid increasing by 77 percent since January _ from 1.8 million to 3.2 million.

Delivering humanitarian aid to those in need has become extremely difficult for a number of reasons: Ships carrying food and other items need naval escorts and aid workers on the ground are being targeted, with 29 killed, 19 kidnapped and 10 still held captive, Ban said.

U.N. efforts to help boost the economy won’t be effective until the government is able to control the circulation of counterfeit money, he added.

Source: AP


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