WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and other shipping nations have agreed on new guidelines to curb rampant piracy off the Horn of Africa, the State Department said on Wednesday.
The State Department said the United States, Britain, Cyprus, Japan, Singapore and South Korea had recently signed the “New York Declaration” on measures to protect against attacks, like increasing lookouts and keeping fire pumps ready to repel would-be pirates.
“Piracy is a 17th century problem that demands a 21st century solution,” an official release quoted senior State Department official Andrew Shapiro as telling a Washington symposium on high-seas crime.
Shapiro said efforts were also underway to boost cooperation among naval patrols now stationed in the region, arrange for the prosecution of suspected pirates and to help Somalia and its neighbors secure their own territorial waters.
“We all understand that piracy is a result of the decades of failed governance in Somalia,” he said.
The nonbinding declaration also covers smaller shipping countries such as Panama and Liberia, and altogether agrees guidelines for nations accounting for more than 50 percent of the world’s shipping by gross tonnage.
Shapiro said that 33,000 commercial ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, making it one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
In 2007, there were 19 pirate attacks on ships. In 2008, the number rose to 122 and in the first nine months of 2009, there have already been 140 attacks including the April attempted hijacking of the U.S. cargo ship the Maersk Alabama.
The attacks continue. This week, Somali pirates freed a Greek ship after they received a $2 million ransom for the vessel and its 21 Filipino crew.
Shapiro said the area imperiled by pirates now stretched over huge swathes of the west Indian Ocean and into the Red Sea and that naval vessels will never be able to keep up -- giving boat captains and owners more responsibility.
“Effective defensive counter-measures by merchant vessels will remain pivotal to preventing their capture by pirates,” Shapiro said.