NAIROBI (AFP) — The International Maritime Organisation on Thursday urged the Somali government to take tougher action to end piracy along its coastline and ensure that hijacked vessels are released.
The appeal came as government troops, backed by Ethiopian forces, continued battling insurgents in the capital Mogadishu in a war that has spurred Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.
The IMO urged the government "to take any action it deems necessary to prevent and suppress acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships" and ensure "that its coastline cannot be used as a safe haven from which attacks can be launched."
The government should ensure that "all ships seized by pirates and armed robbers and brought into waters within its territory are released promptly and that ships sailing off the coast of Somalia do not become victims", it said.
The resolution adopted by the 25th IMO assembly also urged foreign nations to assist Somalia in fighting piracy, notably by cooperation and sharing information.
The resolution asked the government "to advise the UN Security Council that, in response to a previous request from the IMO Council, it consents to warships or military aircraft entering its territorial sea, when engaging in operations against pirates or suspected pirates and armed robbers."
In theory, a 1992 UN arms embargo on Somalia still bars armed warships and military planes from venturing into Somali waters, although the restriction has seen numerous violations.
The IMO asked foreign governments to issue "ships entitled to fly their flag specific advice and guidance on any appropriate additional precautionary measures necessary to protect themselves from attack."
Nations should take "necessary legislative, judicial and law enforcement action to ensure they are able to receive and prosecute or extradite suspected pirates and armed robbers," it added.
In November last year, a Kenyan court sentenced 10 Somalis to seven years in jail for hijacking a vessel along with 16 crew members off the Somali coast and demanding a 50,000-dollar-ransom. The pirates had been arrested by US warships and handed over to Kenya.
The court ignored the defence's objections that it had no jurisdiction on crimes committed in foreign waters and on foreigners. Instead, the court relied on the Kenyan penal code on hijacking offences, setting a landmark ruling.
Attacks have blocked the delivery of humanitarian supplies to more than a million people facing a catastrophe in the Horn of Africa nation, which has a population of about 10 million.
On November 19, a French frigate protected World Food Programme vessels delivering food to Mogadishu.
There have been at least 26 attacks by pirates, including three against WFP-chartered ships, this year off Somalia's 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) of unpatrolled coastline.
The attacks stopped in the second half of 2006 during six months of strict rule by Islamists, who were ousted by Ethiopian and Somali government troops at the end of the year.
In recent months, the multinational Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CTF 150), based in Djibouti to fight terrorism in the volatile region, has upped surveillance in the pirate-infested waters.
Since the defeat of the Islamists this year, an ensuing guerrilla campaign has displaced at least 600,000 people from Mogadishu, including 200,000 who have fled in recent weeks amid heavy fighting.
The UN says the conflict has displaced one million people in Somalia, spawning Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.
Somalia, which lies at the mouth of the Red Sea, has been without an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre sparked a bloody power struggle.
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