SINGAPORE, Oct 14 – Pirates operating off Somalia are being controlled by crime syndicates including foreigners lured by the multi-million-dollar ransoms, Interpol and other officials said on Wednesday.
The pirates have also acquired sophisticated weapons and tracking devices allowing them to extend their reach, they added.
"It is organised crime," said Jean-Michel Louboutin, executive director of police services at Interpol, the France-based global police organisation.
"Certainly, yes," he told AFP when asked if people from outside Somalia were involved in the racket.
The presence of an international armada to police the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, off Somalia, is not enough to solve the problem, which also has policing, social and economic dimensions, Louboutin and other officials said.
They were speaking on the sidelines of Interpol’s 78th general assembly, which ends in Singapore on Thursday.
Mick Palmer, Australia’s inspector of transport security, said there was "clear evidence" of the increasing sophistication of the pirates, who hijack ships and take hostages for ransom.
"Their weaponry continues to get more sophisticated, their attacks are taking place farther and farther out to sea… as far as 1,200 nautical miles offshore," Palmer told reporters.
"So they are getting some quite sophisticated assistance in locating big trading ships," he said, noting their ability to track down the vessels which, despite their size, look like tiny dots in the vast ocean.
Palmer also said ordinary Somali pirates get only a small portion of the average two million dollars in ransom paid for each hijacking.
This suggests the involvement of organised crime groups who get the bulk of the money, he said.
An ordinary Somali pirate involved in a successful ship hijack receives a mere 10,000 US dollars of the ransom money, he said.
Half a million dollars is paid to people who deliver the ransom, usually by a helicopter that lands on the hijacked ship, and another 500,000 dollars goes to the negotiators, Palmer said.
"So there is a big industry," Palmer said.
"There’s lots of money to be made from hijacking. But the pirates themselves, many of whom are only teenagers from poor and disadvantaged background, are getting very little of that money."
Palmer said chasing the money trail of the crime groups involved is crucial to solving the problem as "no criminals are in business to lose money, they only get involved to get money."
Apart from the ransom paid, shipping companies also lost an average of seven million dollars for every hostage-taking, which typically lasts about 70 days, Palmer said.