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African Union links international crime networks to Somali piracy

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - A senior African Union (AU) official said Wednesday the involvement of the Interpol was required to help crack the international crime network aiding the piracy off the Somali coastline, which also involves a sophisticated money-laundering network.

'It is difficult to say there is state involvement' but the level of sophistication points to a well-funded operation. These are people who know what is going on and are well-equipped with the intelligence,' Sivuyile Bam, Head of the AU Peace Support Operation Division, told PANA.

Efforts are underway to get states, mostly those believed to benefit from the illegal piracy operation, to own up and agree jointly to stop the money-laundering that is aiding the trade.

'Some countries are recipients. We are having discussions with the states that are alleged to house some of these financiers that they must distance themselves from the trade,' the official said.

The international shipping network depends on a highly sophisticated international banking system, which partly deals with the insurance of the millions of tonnes of shipped highly valued goods, including crude oil shipm ents and military arms that pass through the Somali coastline along the Indian Ocean.

There is suspicion that the international financiers aiding the piracy operations are based in the United States, Britain, India and South Africa.

The AU believes the crime networks are running the highly sophisticated operation, with the help of international financial experts, who are helping to clean up the millions of ransoms paid to the pirates for the release of ships under their captivity.

Bam said the attacks on huge ships, ranging from 80 metres to 100 metres, confirms that the piracy operation is beyond mere Somali fishermen using small boats.

'The pirates are given intelligence. There is a mother ship somewhere. It is not an operation of a rag-tag army. It is organised crime.

'It is not about traditional fishermen paddling wooden boats. The big ships cannot be climbed without the aid of certain equipment,' Bam said. Somali pirates are reportedly holding at least 26 foreign vessels and at least 474 seafarers.

Bam said the huge ransom payments, amounting in some instances to US$12 million, are being laundered by people within the financial markets.

He said Somalia was not receiving a penny of the huge ransom payments, noting that the level of investments in Somalia would have been increasing if the ransom money was trickling into Somalia.

Source: Afrique