NAIROBI, December 11 – Somali pirates have raked in more than 120 million dollars in ransom money since the start of 2008, the United Nations’ top envoy for Somalia said at an international conference here on Thursday.
Ahmedou Ould Abdallah said pirates had attacked 32 ships since October alone and warned the 140 delegates gathered in Nairobi that "the threat of piracy cannot and should not be underestimated anymore."
"They may have collected over 120 million dollars (91.3 million euros) for this year, with total impunity," he said.
"This unprecedented rise in piracy is threatening the very freedom and safety of maritime trade routes, affecting not only Somalia and the region, but also a large percentage of world trade," he said.
Ould Abdallah also said it was key to identify and target the financiers of the pirates boarding the ships, most of whom are former coastguards and seasonal fishermen.
"Countries that can do so should trace, track and freeze the assets of the backers of the pirates," the UN envoy said.
"They deserve to be brought to justice and prevented from harming their country, its economy and reputation. Impunity and lack of respect for human rights have no doubt encouraged piracy," he added.
Pirates have redistributed ransom money to ensure the local coastal communities’ support and have also reinvested in better equipment, such as bigger engines for their speedboats and satellite phones.
The pirates holding the Sirius Star, a 330-metre (1100-foot) Saudi super-tanker carrying two million barrels of crude, even have a money-counting machine should the 3.5 million dollars they have demanded come in cash.
But a maritime official in Kenya argued that only a fraction of the ransom money paid for the release of ships goes through Somalia.
"Most of it ends up in Nairobi, Mombasa, the United Kingdom, Canada etc.," the official said on condition of anonymity. "Ransom money goes through Kenya so it means that the security system here is part of the problem."
He argued that if the international community wanted to apply pressure on the backers of Somali piracy, they should start looking in Nairobi, a key hub for Somali trade and business.
"Harardhere is not a pirate den, the real pirate den is Nairobi," the official said. Harardhere is the port north of Mogadishu near where the Sirius Star and other hijacked ships are being held.