Centuries after piracy was recognized as the first international crime against humanity, the U.N. Security Council held its first debate Monday on piracy’s rise as a threat to world peace and security.
In the past, the council has focused on regional piracy outbreaks such as off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa and in Southeast Asia.
Monday’s debate was called by Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, who holds the council presidency this month. Seven percent of all maritime workers are Indian nationals, and many have been taken hostage.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said countries fighting piracy need better coordination and information sharing, and he called for stronger prosecution of apprehended pirates. He also called for an international agreement on rules for posting private armed security guards on merchant ships.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told the council that no ship carrying armed guards has been successfully attacked by pirates. But posting armed guards on ships is controversial. Russian and Italian military crew assigned to merchant ships have fired on and killed fishermen off Somalia, mistaking them for pirates approaching to board.
The Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau, which tracks pirate attacks, reported 252 attacks worldwide for the year as of late October. Nine ships were being held for ransom off Somalia, with 154 hostages.
More than 20 countries’ navies have captured hundreds of pirates off Somalia, leading to problems over what to do with the prisoners. Some have been freed on the Somali coast.
The Netherlands proposed the creation of a regional U.N. piracy tribunal several years ago to take the burden until Somalia’s government is functional enough to take over. But the idea has been dormant due to lack of Security Council interest.