HARGEISA (Reuters) - Somaliland’s parliament has passed legislation recognising piracy as a crime and allowing for pirates convicted abroad to be transferred to the breakaway enclave, officials said on Wednesday.
Somaliland, which declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 but is still not recognised internationally, said the laws were a sign of the territory’s commitment to fighting maritime attacks off Somalia’s shores.
The two laws come ahead of a conference on Somalia in London on Thursday, at which Britain wants to push for the anarchic Horn of Africa country to play a greater role in the fight against a criminal enterprise that costs the world economy billions of dollars each year.
Somalia has lacked effective government for the last two decades, but Somaliland - which has a coastline facing Yemen - has stronger central authority.
Until now, Somaliland has had to charge suspected pirates landed on its shores with armed robbery. Under the new legislation, piracy will carry a maximum jail term of 25 years.
“The passing of these laws proves that we are willing to cooperate with the international community,” Abdirahman Abdillahi, speaker of Somaliland’s House of Representatives, told Reuters, referring to the fight against piracy.
Piracy in the strategic sealanes off Somalia has evolved from a local response to illegal fishing and toxic dumping to an international criminal enterprise.
While a fleet of foreign warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean regularly detain suspected pirates, many are quickly released because governments are reluctant to bring them to trial.
Some experts estimate up to 90 percent of captured pirates are turned loose.
Somalia lacks the judicial or prison infrastructure to try and detain large numbers.
Up to now, regional countries like Seychelles and Kenya have carried the burden of prosecuting and jailing pirates, but they insist the load must be shared.
British Foreign Minister William Hague said earlier this month the London conference should push for the transfer of convicted pirates from regional states to Somalia as well as the development of Somalia’s maritime capacity.
Somaliland’s Interior Minister Mohamed Nur Arale told Reuters his authorities were ready to use additional external funding to beef up its fledgling anti-piracy operations.
“We want to build the capacity of the maritime police through additional equipment and training. The more their capacity is improved, the more effective their efforts to deter piracy will be, both inland and offshore,” Arale said.