, NAIROBI, April 18 – Somalia’s breakaway state of Puntland, a major piracy hub, appealed Saturday for international assistance to set up a task force that could rein in soaring attacks against ships in the region.
During an official visit to Nairobi, Puntland’s president, Abdurahman Mohamed Farole, told AFP that his three-month-old administration was drawing up plans for a special anti-piracy task force.
"The task force would comprise around 2,400 men, including some members of the police," said Farole, who is to meet representatives of the donor community on Monday.
He explained that 500 to 600 members of the force would be posted in up to eight main bases along Puntland’s coast on the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, while the rest would operate from the hinterland.
Farole said monitoring Puntland’s waters was difficult since major fishing ports were not linked by coastal roads and interconnected only through major towns deeper inland.
"The running cost of such an operation would not exceed 20 million dollars (annually) although the initial cost… which includes building the bases, radar stations and training would be a bit higher," he said.
Farole said his administration had produced a concept paper which is being circulated among foreign powers and added that he had received positive feedback so far.
Somali pirates, most of whom operate out of Puntland, attacked more than 130 ships in 2008, hijacking close to 50.
According to some experts, ransom payments for the past year amounted to around 50 million dollars (38.3 million euros), nearly matching the total budget of the Puntland government.
The surge in piracy has disrupted one of the planet’s most vital maritime trade routes, prompting the international community to dispatch naval missions to the area.
The European Union’s Atalanta mission is one of them and is believed to cost more than 300 million dollars a year.
Donor countries had been reluctant to pour cash into home-grown anti-piracy programmes, citing allegations that senior officials had stakes in piracy. Farole denied any such links in his or his predecessor’s administrations.
After a relative lull in attacks caused mainly by the monsoon, pirates have escalated their activities since the start of the month, bringing to 17 the number of ships currently held and to more than 250 the number of hostages.