UN gives OK to attack pirates

Bases on coast of Somalia cited

The Royal Navy frigate Northumberand left the Kenyan port of Mombasa Sunday, the first ship to begin escorting World Food Program aid to Somalia. Pirates have turned the coastline into a high-risk area. The Royal Navy frigate Northumberand left the Kenyan port of Mombasa Sunday, the first ship to begin escorting World Food Program aid to Somalia. Pirates have turned the coastline into a high-risk area. (Joseph Okanga/Reuters)
Associated Press / December 17, 2008
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UNITED NATIONS - On the same day gunmen seized two more ships, the UN Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to authorize nations to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases on the Somali coast.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on hand to push through the resolution, one of President Bush's last major foreign policy initiatives.

Rice said the resolution will have a significant impact, especially since "pirates are adapting to the naval presence in the Gulf of Aden by traveling further" into sea lanes not guarded by warships sent by the US and others to the waters off the Horn of Africa.

The council authorized nations to use "all necessary measures that are appropriate in Somalia" to stop anyone using Somali territory to plan or carry out piracy in the nearby waters traversed each year by thousands of cargo ships sailing between Asia and the Suez Canal.

That includes the use of Somali airspace, even though the US appeased Indonesia, a council member, by removing direct mention of it, US officials said.

Ali Ahmed Jama, Somalia's foreign minister, whose government asked for the help, said he was heartened by the council's action. "These acts of piracy are categorically unacceptable and should be put to an end," he said.

The resolution sets up the possibility of increased American military action in Somalia. The commander of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet expressed doubt last week about the wisdom of staging ground attacks on the pirates. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney told reporters it is difficult to identify pirates and said the potential for killing innocent civilians "cannot be overestimated."

Rice played down the differences between the State Department and the Pentagon, and she told reporters that the US is fully committed to preventing pirates from establishing a sanctuary.

Spurred by widespread poverty in their homeland, which hasn't had a functioning government for nearly two decades, Somali pirates are evading an international naval flotilla to intercept huge tankers, freighters and other ships to hold for ransom. A tugboat operated by the French oil company Total and a Turkish cargo ship became the latest victims yesterday.

Pirates have hijacked more than 40 vessels off Somalia's 1,880-mile coastline this year. Before the latest seizures, maritime officials said 14 vessels remained in pirate hands - including a Saudi tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil and a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and other heavy weapons. Also held are more than 250 crew members.

Rice said the resolution will allow the tougher action needed to quell the piracy, which she blamed on Somalia's turmoil.

"Once peace and normalcy have returned to Somalia, we believe that economic development can return to Somalia," she said. "This current response is a good start."

Under the resolution, nations must first get a request for an attack from Somalia's weak UN-backed government, which itself would be required to notify UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before any attack.

"Piracy is a symptom of the state of anarchy which has persisted in that country for over 17 years," Ban told the council. "This lawlessness constitutes a serious threat to regional stability and to international peace and security."

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to discuss any possible military operations, but acknowledged there are "practical challenges" to combating pirates. He said the United States would continue to work with allies in the region and encourage shipping companies to take prudent measures to protect their vessels.

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