Sunday, March 13, 2011

India mulls law to battle sea pirates

New Delhi, March 12 (IANS) India is mulling a domestic law to check growing piracy on the sea, official sources said Saturday, adding pirates off the Somali coast were now moving towards the Indian coast.

Claiming that the navies of India and other countries had succeeded in curbing Somalian piracy, a senior official said: 'As a result, they have spread to the Indian Ocean.'

Another official admitted that the situation was 'serious' and 'bad' but added that the Indian government was doing its best to free the 53 Indian sailors still in the custody of Somali pirates.

The absence of an international law to check piracy was one of the factors causing the problem to fester, the sources said.

'There is no international law to deal with piracy,' one official said. 'We are working on a domestic law... The threat has grown over the years. It is a very complex issue.'

The proposed Indian law would be used exclusively to haul up pirates who come in Indian waters.

Equally important reasons for the growth of piracy in Somalia were the lack of a central government, proliferation of pirate gangs and the links some of them were forging with terrorist groups.

Working non-stop and without break, the Indian Navy has escorted since October 2008 more than 1,500 ships to safety in the Gulf of Aden that is a key maritime route, the sources said.

'We have been able to prevent 28 attacks by pirates,' the official said. 'We have ensured that no Indian flagged ship is harmed.'

Somali pirates took 1,016 hostages in 2010, of which 638 still remain in their custody. A total of 49 ships were hijacked last year.

Since 2007, the pirates seized a total of 175 Indian sailors. Of this, 122 were released while 53 remain hostage.

These 53 belong to three ships with the flags of Panama and one each of Malta and Italy.

The sources underlined the difficulties of pressurizing owners of ships with abducted Indian sailors if these owners were based outside India.

The managers of three of the ships accounting for the 53 sailors were based in India. One each was based in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The Indian envoy in Cairo along with the ambassadors of Pakistan and Sri Lanka called on the Egyptian foreign minister Thursday to impress upon the urgency of having the hostages freed.

But the Indian government had not made any ransom payment and has held no direct negotiations with the pirates.

'Ultimately, we have to work with the international community ... how to help Somalia improve the situation (within its borders),' the official said.

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