UN backs nations to hunt pirates

While Somali gunmen seize three more ships, the UN unanimously authorises land and air attacks.

A member of the Dutch special forces stands guard near the bridge of Dutch cargo ship MV Jumbo Javelin as it passes near the Gulf of Aden.
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On the same day Somali gunmen seized three more ships - two cargo ships and a yacht - in the Gulf of Aden, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to authorise nations to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases on the coast Somalia. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on hand to push through the resolution, which is one of George W Bush's last major foreign policy initiatives as president of the Unites States. Ms Rice said the resolution will have a significant impact, especially since "pirates are adapting to the naval presence in the Gulf of Aden by travelling further" into sea lanes not guarded by warships sent by the US and other countries.

The council authorised 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. The Somali foreign minister Ali Ahmed Jama, whose government asked for the help, said he was "heartened" by the council 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, a chaotic country where a US peacekeeping mission in 1992-93 ended with a humiliating withdrawal of troops after a deadly clash in Mogadishu, as portrayed in the movie "Black Hawk Down." 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.

Pirates have hijacked more than 40 vessels off Somalia's 3,025-kilometre coastline this year. Last month, they captured the world's attention when they hijacked the Saudi-owned supertanker Sirius Star, carrying two million barrels of crude oil, and demanded a $25m ransom for the boat and its crew. Ms Rice said the resolution will allow the tougher action needed to quell the piracy, which she blamed on Somalia's turmoil. "Once peace and normality have returned to Somalia, we believe that economic development can return to Somalia," she said. "This current response is a good start."

The UN also has been urging shipping and insurance companies not to pay ransom for captured ships, saying that encourages more piracy. He Yafei, China's vice minister for foreign affairs, told the Security Council that China is considering sending warships to the Gulf of Aden, where they would join ships from the US, Russia, Denmark, Italy and other countries. This would the first time in modern history that the nation's navy carried out a mission outside Chinese waters, said Shen Shishun, an expert with the Chinese Institute of International Studies, a government think tank.

* Agencies