SINGAPORE — Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia are being controlled by crime syndicates, including foreigners lured by the multi-million-dollar ransoms, Interpol and other officials said on Wednesday.
The pirates have also acquired sophisticated weapons and tracking devices allowing them to extend their reach, they added.
"It is organised crime," said Jean-Michel Louboutin, executive director of police services at Interpol, the France-based global police organisation.
"Certainly, yes," he told AFP when asked if people from outside Somalia were involved in the racket.
The presence of an international armada to police the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, off Somalia, is not enough to solve the problem, which also has social and economic dimensions, Louboutin and other officials said.
They were speaking on the sidelines of Interpol's 78th general assembly, which ends in Singapore Thursday.
Mick Palmer, Australia's inspector of transport security, said there was "clear evidence" of the increasing sophistication of the pirates, who hijack ships and take hostages for ransom.
"Their weaponry continues to get more sophisticated, their attacks are taking place farther and farther out to sea... as far as 1,200 nautical miles offshore," Palmer told reporters.
"So they are getting some quite sophisticated assistance in locating big trading ships," he said.
Ordinary Somali pirates only get a small portion -- about 10,000 dollars - of the average two million dollars ransom for each hijacking, suggesting that organised crime groups get the bulk of the money, Palmer said.
Half a million dollars is paid to people who deliver the ransom, usually by a helicopter that lands on the hijacked ship, and another 500,000 dollars goes to the negotiators, Palmer said.
"So there is a big industry," he said.
"There's lots of money to be made from hijacking. But the pirates themselves, many of whom are only teenagers from poor and disadvantaged background, are getting very little of that money."
Chasing the money trail is crucial to fighting the problem since "no criminals are in business to lose money, they only get involved to get money", Palmer said.
Apart from any ransom paid, shipping companies also lost an average of seven million dollars for every hostage-taking, which typically lasts about 70 days, Palmer said.
The "illegal" presence of foreign trawlers has displaced Somali fishermen, who have turned to piracy for a living, Major General Abdi Hassan Awaleh, the Somali police force commissioner, told reporters.
Some foreign fishing vessels are owned by countries which have deployed warships to fight the pirate attacks, Awaleh said without giving names.
Piracy was a response to the "illegal, unlimited and unmitigated fishing" by foreign companies, he said, adding that the absence of a Somali government between 1991 and 2004 also contributed to the problem.
Louboutin said Interpol was trying to help Somali police with technical expertise, including building a pirates' database and fingerprinting suspects.
"It is very important to understand that this is not only a military problem," Louboutin said.
"It's a civil problem and we have to help this country to enhance its capacity and to provide technical support".
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