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U.N. OKs hunting pirates on land, by air

The Security Council has unanimously authorized nations to go ashore in Somalia to fight piracy.
Image: United Nations Security Council
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, right,  and David Miliband, center, raise their hands during a U.N. Security Council vote on a draft resolution about fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia.Justin Lane / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

On the same day Somali pirates hijacked two more ships, the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday unanimously authorized nations to go ashore in Somalia to fight piracy over the next year.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on hand to secure approval of the U.S.-sponsored resolution in the 15-nation council.

To gain passage, the U.S. and other proponents had to appease Indonesia and several other council members' concerns about national sovereignty and keeping up a peace process.

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 U.S. and other countries.

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 U.S. appeased Indonesia, a council member, by removing direct mention of it, U.S. officials said.

Somalia 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.

New U.S. military action?
The resolution sets up the possibility of increased American military action in Somalia, a chaotic country where a U.S. 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."

The commander of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet expressed doubt last week about the wisdom of launching attacks against Somali pirates on land. U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney told reporters that it is difficult to identify pirates and that the potential for killing innocent civilians "cannot be overestimated."

Rice played down the differences between the State Department and Pentagon, telling reporters that the U.S. was fully committed to preventing pirates from establishing a sanctuary.

"What we do or do not do in cases of hot pursuit we'll have to see, and you'll have to take it case by case," she said. "I would not be here seeking authorization to go ashore if the United States government, perhaps most importantly, the president of the United States, were not behind this resolution."

An international flotilla has tried to patrol Somalia's coast, but still the pirates outmaneuver the warships. Using cluster-like attacks in small skiffs, the pirates manage to intercept far bigger tankers, freighters and other ships.

A tugboat operated by the French oil company Total and a Turkish cargo ship became the latest targets Tuesday.

'A good start'
Pirates have seized more than 40 vessels off Somalia's 1,880-mile coastline this year. Before the latest seizures, maritime officials said 14 remained in pirate hands — including a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million in crude and a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and heavy weapons. Also held are a total of 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," Rice said. "This current response is a good start."

What Rice called a good start was a resolution authorizing nations to use "all necessary measures" by land or sea in Somalia to stop anyone using Somali territory to plan or carry out piracy.

Nations must first get permission from Somalia's weak U.N.-backed government, which, in turn, is required to give advance notice of any operation to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"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."

Call for regional cooperation
He Yafei, China's vice minister for foreign affairs, told the council that China is considering sending naval ships to the Gulf of Aden, where they would join U.S., Russian, Danish, Italian and other nations' forces.

An official with the Yemen-based Total SA confirmed the latest hijacking, saying the seized tugboat had a crew of Indonesians and other nationalities and was on its way from the southern Yemeni port of Mukalla to Malaysia when it was seized.

In Paris, Total spokesman Kevin Church said that a tugboat and a barge were hijacked but stressed that they were not Total's boats. They belong to a subcontractor, he said, and are not believed to be carrying oil.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet could not confirm the tugboat seizure, but did say M/V Bosphorus Prodigy, owned by the Istanbul-based Isko Marine Company, had also been seized by pirates Tuesday, according spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen.

Kenya's military chief, Gen. Jeremiah Kianga, said Tuesday that his country will increase patrols along its coastline because piracy off neighboring Somalia has made business at Kenya's main port more expensive.

Kenya's air force and navy will patrol only Kenyan territory and not enter Somali air space or waters, Kianga said.

"Regional cooperation is essential," Costa said. "A few years ago, piracy was a threat to the Straits of Malacca. By working together, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand managed to cut the number of attacks by more than half since 2004."