Somalia appeals for international help to combat pirates in its waters

Somalia's government appealed Saturday for international help to combat pirates, who have used speed boats, automatic weapons and satellite phones to target U.N.-chartered ships and other vessels.

The appeal came a day after the International Maritime Bureau reported an alarming increase in attacks off the southern and eastern coast of Somalia and appealed to U.S. and NATO warships in the region to protect vessels sailing near the Somali coast, an important shipping route connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean.

Pirates have launched 23 attacks against ships off anarchic Somalia since March 15, the London-based International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy around the world, said on its web site.

Somalia has had no effective central government since opposition leaders ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. They then turned on each other, transforming this nation of 7 million into a patchwork of battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.

A new transitional government, formed during lengthy peace talks in neighboring Kenya, is struggling to establish itself in Somalia as it faces internal divisions and opposition from Islamic militants and warlords who benefit from the ongoing anarchy.

"Until we establish our own marine force, we want neighboring countries to deploy their navies to protect Somalia's coastline against the pirates," Mohamed Ali Americo, a senior official in the Somali prime minister's office, said as 20 crew members from two hijacked ships arrived in Kenya following pirate attacks. "We need help from all the nations along the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea."

"The pirates use ransom to buy weapons," he told The Associated Press. "Their operations are also intended to destabilize and discredit the transitional government now that it has relocated to Somalia."

A Hong Kong-based company that owns Feisty Gas, a liquefied petroleum gas tanker that was seized on April 10, paid US$315,000 (Ђ262,200) to a representative of the Somali hijackers in Mombasa, Kenya, according to a recent U.N. report.

Pirates who seized 48 Asian fishermen and their three vessels on Aug. 15 are still holding them captive near the southern Somali port of Kismayo.

Somali pirates are trained fighters, often dressed in military fatigues, using speedboats equipped with satellite phones and Global Positioning System equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades, according to the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia.

"That is what makes them very dangerous and we are appealing for help," Americo said.

Somalia, which has the longest coast in Africa at 3,025-kilometer (1,880-mile), lies along key shipping lanes linking the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The United States and NATO have warships in the region to protect vessels in the deeper waters farther from shore, but they are not permitted to operate in Somalia's territorial waters.

"These attacks take place in international waters and we call upon the naval vessels in the region to come to the assistance of the hijacked ships," according to the International Maritime Bureau.

"At the very least, they can prevent the hijackers from taking these ships into Somali waters. Once the vessels have entered these waters the chances of any law enforcement response is negligible.", AP reported. V.A.

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