UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution for the first time authorizing international land operations against audacious, armed pirates sheltering in Somalia.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed the adoption Tuesday of the US resolution saying it sent a "strong signal to combat the scourge of piracy" and stressed the need "to end the impunity of Somali pirates."
The text, co-sponsored by Belgium, France, Greece, Liberia and South Korea, gives those nations already involved in battling pirates off Somalia a one-year mandate to act against the brigands inside the country.
Resolution 1851 authorizes the states to "take all necessary measures that are appropriate in Somalia" to suppress "acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."
However, to overcome objections from countries such as Indonesia an earlier reference in the text to "ashore" or "including in its (Somalia) airspace" was dropped.
Pirates on Wednesday hijacked a Turkish cargo ship and a Malaysian tug boat and attacked three other vessels in the Gulf of Aden in the past week, a global maritime watchdog said.
The latest incidents came as a European Union naval task force took over from a NATO operation patrolling the pirate-infested seas near the Horn of Africa with six warships and three surveillance planes.
In the first hijacking, pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons boarded a Malaysian tug on Tuesday, Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur told AFP.
The tug with 11 crew on board was heading to Malaysia from the Middle East.
Choong said a Turkish cargo ship was hijacked, also in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday, by a gang of pirates who fired automatic weapons from two speed boats.
Somali pirates also captured a yacht, said Andrew Mwangura of the Kenyan chapter of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme.
He said two people were on board the yacht.
Increasingly emboldened, pirates have carried out more than 100 attacks in the key shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean since the start of this year.
Last month, they captured the world's attention when they hijacked the Saudi-owned super-tanker Sirius Star, carrying two million barrels of crude oil, and demanded a 25-million dollar ransom for the boat and its crew.
It is one of about 17 ships, including an arms-laden Ukrainian cargo vessel, currently in pirate hands.
Rice told the high-profile UN ministerial session that the US intended to work with partners to set up a contact group on Somali piracy, adding the insecurity and lawlessness in the Horn of Africa nation had to be urgently addressed.
China may send warships to fight rampant piracy off Somalia, state media said Wednesday, announcing what would be an unprecedented display of naval power far from its shores.
"China is seriously considering sending naval ships to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast for escorting operations in the near future," Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei was quoted as saying in New York by the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency.
This would the first time in modern history that the nation's navy carried out a mission outside Chinese waters, according to Shen Shishun, an expert with the Chinese Institute of International Studies, a government think tank.
Tuesday's resolution was the fourth approved by the council since June to combat the rampant piracy off Somalia's coast. And unlike previous resolutions, the current text empowers states combating piracy to conduct operations on land in Somalia.
But the Pentagon warned there were "practical challenges" to taking such action inside Somalia.
"We welcome the passing of the resolution. We will continue to work with our allies and partners to address this troublesome problem," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.
He pointed out that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had raised "some of the practical challenges associated with combating this illegal activity."
Rice also told the UN session attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Chinese deputy foreign minister He Yafei and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, that it was time "to authorize a UN peacekeeping operation" in Somalia.
Ethiopian troops, who intervened in Somalia in 2006 to prop up the weak transitional government, will be withdrawn early next month, leaving the ill-equipped and under-strength 3,400-strong African Union force on its own to face a resurgent Islamic rebellion.
UN chief Ban welcomed the council's actions to combat Somali piracy and said he would submit recommendations "on ways to ensure the long-term security of international navigation off the coast of Somalia."
But he stressed the need to address the country's broader security challenge, saying the most appropriate response was "a multinational force (MNF), rather than a typical peacekeeping operation."
Ban said he had approached 50 countries and three international organizations for contributions to such a force.
Indonesia's UN Ambassador Marty Natalegawa meanwhile made clear that "the fight against piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia needs to be undertaken in full compliance with international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."
Ban added the council could explore the possibility of setting up a maritime task force or adding to the current anti-piracy operations "a quick reaction component."
NATO has also dispatched naval forces to the region, joining other national navies in place, but increasingly bold and well-equipped pirates have continued their attacks.
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