The U.S. Navy is close to brokering a deal with an unidentified country to prosecute Somali pirates it captures at sea.
U.S. Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the United States is nearing a deal with an unidentified country that would agree to take the pirates into custody once captured by U.S. forces in Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden waters off the Horn of Africa.
Up to now, U.S. forces in the region have limited their operations to deterrence and disruption because no country, including the United States, has been willing to hold the pirates.
This development comes on the heels of a new United Nations Security Council resolution passed in December, which allows nations to fight Somali pirates on land or at sea with the Somali interim government's approval.
The ability to prosecute and jail pirates, the Navy hopes, would provide a deterrence to piracy and get Somalis back to their traditional livelihood: fishing. Last year, the rate of piracy off Somali shores ballooned by 200 percent over 2007, CNN.com reports.
Somalia and the Gulf of Aden were the worst areas for piracy in 2008, according to the annual report from International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center (PRC).
It said 42 vessels were hijacked there and 815 crew members taken hostage -- more than any place else in the world.
The increased ability of pirates to sail farther out to sea, coupled with the inability of the Somali government to respond, led to what the report called an "unprecedented" rise in piracy in the area.
The problems off the Somali coast contributed to a global rise in piracy, which was up 11 percent in 2008 from the year before, the report said.
In the first month of this year, there's been about a dozen Somali pirate attacks, according to Gortney. This number mirrors the rate of attacks in the fourth quarter of last year when pirates boarded their biggest score: the Saudi supertanker, the Sirius Star.
But prison may not provide enough deterrence for a business that Lloyd's of London estimates will bring in $50 million this year. As the pirates have become more brazen, so have their ransom demands. While $500,000 used to be enough for a shipping company to get its crew and vessel back, the standard asking price now ranges from $1 million to $8 million, according to U.S. News and World Report.
"There is money in this, and so people will continue to do it regardless of a few raids on their bases," James Carafano, a Heritage Foundation defense expert, told U.S. News and World Report . "The only way to cure the disease is to have a Somali government capable of exerting authority."
The Office of Naval Intelligence, which studied the recent rash of piracy, has three recommendations for ships to avoid pirates in the Gulf of Aden: avoid pirate infested waters, go faster, and travel at night.
"All vessels are advised to proceed through the entire Gulf of Aden at maximum possible speed. Vessels with characteristics that put them at higher risk, like maximum speeds of 15 knots or less, as well as those with low freeboard, are advised to minimize risk by transiting as much as possible of the eastern Gulf of Aden in hours of darkness."
In related news, pirates released a Danish ship and its crew after a ransom was parachuted down to them from a plane. The Clipper Group, the company that owns the vessel, would not say how much they paid for their ship's release. Pirates currently still hold 11 vessels and 210 crew members as hostages.