Shipping officials from around the world called Monday for a military blockade along Somalia's coast to intercept pirate vessels heading out to sea.
But NATO, which has four warships off the coast of Somalia, rejected a blockade.
Peter Swift, managing director of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, said stronger naval action — including aerial and aviation support — is necessary to battle rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia.
Some 20 tankers sail through the sea lane daily. But many tanker owners are considering a massive detour around southern Africa to avoid pirates, which will delay delivery and push costs up by 30 percent, Swift said.
The association, whose members own 2,900 tankers or 75 percent of the world's fleet, opposes attempts to arm merchant ships because it could escalate the violence and put crew members at even greater risk, he said.
"The other option is perhaps putting a blockade around Somalia and introducing the idea of intercepting vessels leaving Somalia rather than to try to protect the whole of the Gulf of Aden," Swift said.
Somali pirates have become increasingly brazen, seizing eight vessels in the past two weeks, including a huge Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil.
A blockade along Somalia's 2,400 mile coastline would not be easy.
"But some intervention there may be effective," Swift told reporters on the sidelines of a shipping conference in Malaysia.
U.S. Gen. John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander, said Monday the alliance's mandate is solely to escort World Food Program ships to Somalia and to conduct anti-piracy patrols.
Asked what he thought of a Russian proposal to jointly attack the pirate strongholds, Craddock answered: "That's far beyond what I've been tasked to do."
According to Lt. Nathan Christensen, spokesman of the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, more than 14 warships from Denmark, France, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, the U.S. and NATO are currently patrolling a vast international maritime corridor. They escort some merchant ships and respond to distress calls in the area.
Christensen declined to comment on the idea of a blockade.
But the navies say it is virtually impossible to patrol the vast sea around the gulf.
NATO rules out blockade
NATO has ruled out a blockade.
"Blocking ports is not contemplated by NATO," said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels. U.N. Security Council resolutions "do not include these kind of actions and as far as NATO is concerned, this is at the moment not on the cards," he said.
Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa said Monday Arabs should deploy their own naval forces to fight piracy in the Horn of Africa and also cooperate with foreign fleets in the area.
Diplomats of the Arab countries on the Red Sea met in Cairo last week to coordinate efforts to combat piracy, but some of these nations have been reluctant to get involved.
Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in an Islamic insurgency, has had no functioning government since 1991. There have been 95 pirate attacks so far this year in Somali waters, with 39 ships hijacked.
Fifteen ships with nearly 300 crew are still in the hands of Somali pirates, who dock the hijacked vessels near the eastern and southern coast as they negotiate for ransom.
"Any action to prevent the pirates from heading out to sea is welcome," said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur. He said it was up to the international community to decide how they can deploy their forces for the blockade.
'More needs to be done'
The Baltic and International Maritime Council, the world's largest private shipping organization, echoed calls for greater military action.
"Despite increased patrols by coalition forces, piracy attacks continue. We hope a system ... will be put in place to coordinate the coalition forces," said Thomas Timlen, its Asian liaison officer. "It's clear from recent events ... that more needs to be done."
Both Swift and Timlen said a blockade is possible if the multi-coalition naval force coordinate their actions and more warships are sent to the area with a stronger mandate.
U.N. resolutions now allow pursuit of pirate ships but various countries interpret the law differently, Swift said.
He called for a clear mandate from the United Nations to allow warships to intercept pirate ships and arrest the sea bandits.