Estimated 3,500 Somalis Are Operating as Pirates, UN Says

There are about 3,500 Somali people working as pirates, attacking and hijacking vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, according to Wayne Miller, an official from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The number of Somalis who have turned to piracy is greater than the 2,000 figure commonly cited in counter-piracy campaigns, Miller, who is based in Nairobi, Kenya, said today at a conference in London. His estimate was based on talks with pirates in Somalia last November, when the end of the monsoon season typically sees attacks rise, Miller said.

“None of them ever heard that if you work as a pirate you might die, you might get jailed or you might get maimed,” Miller said. “Somalis want help getting rid of what’s destroying their country.”

There are an estimated 1,000 Somalis in custody in about 20 countries, said Miller, whose job involves visiting African jails where pirates are jailed and communities in Somalia. The UN office’s counter-piracy program, which began in 2009, spans six countries with a mandate to support the detention and prosecution of suspects, according to it website.

Somali pirate attacks rose to a record 237 in 2011, with ransoms worth $160 million paid to release 31 hijacked vessels, according to a One Earth Future Foundation report released last week.

About 42,450 vessels pass through the region annually, the foundation said. Of these, 23,000 transit the Gulf of Aden carrying $1 trillion of trade, the U.K. government estimates.

Piracy cost the shipping industry and governments $6.9 billion last year, including $2.7 billion in extra fuel to speed up through the area and $1.27 billion on military operations, according to the foundation.

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