UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council unanimously voted Tuesday to authorize nations to conduct military raids, on land and by air, against pirates plying the waters off the Somalia coast.
The vote represented a major escalation by the world’s big powers in the fight against the pirates, who have disrupted commerce along one of the world’s most active sea routes and acquired tens of millions of dollars in ransom. It came as China – which has seen several ships commandeered in recent months – said it is seriously considering joining U.S., European and Russian warships policing the region.
The U.S.-drafted resolution authorizes nations to “use all necessary measures that are appropriate in Somalia” in pursuit of pirates, as long as they are approved by its transitional federal government. The resolution also urges states to deploy naval vessels and military aircraft to carry out the operations, and calls for the creation of a regional office to coordinate international cooperation.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who personally pushed for passage, hailed the vote as sending “a strong signal of commitment to combat the scourge of piracy. Piracy currently pays. But worse, pirates pay few costs for their criminality; their dens in Somalia provide refuge from the naval ships in the Gulf of Aden.”
Rice said the United States would help establish a contact group of governments to share intelligence and to coordinate naval and military operations in the region. She also called on the shipping industry to strengthen the defenses of commercial vessels, and urged countries victimized by piracy to detain captured pirates and prosecute them in their own courts.
Rice’s diplomatic achievement in the council was tempered by the unraveling political and security situation in Somalia, which could ultimately jeopardize the international effort. Somalia’s government has been hobbled by an internal power struggle between its president and prime minister.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warned that Somalia may descend into “chaos” by the end of the month, when an Ethiopian occupation force leaves the country.
But Ban rejected Rice’s proposal for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia, suggesting that conditions there were not secure enough. Instead, he asked the Security Council to increase funding for a financially strapped African Union force that has struggled to secure strategic sea and air ports.