April 8, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, released the following statement in response to the seizure this morning of the U.S.-flagged container ship, Maersk Alabama, which was carrying relief cargo to Kenya for the United Nations; 21 Americans on board the ship are currently being held hostage:
“My deepest thoughts and prayers go out to the crew of the Maersk Alabama, as well as their families, as they endure this difficult time. It is my hope that this situation will be resolved as quickly and as safely as possible, and the DOD has my full support and confidence in its ability to handle this delicate situation.
“Piracy in the high seas is a very serious problem that threatens the lives of innocent mariners and poses a challenge to the shipping industry during a deepening economic recession. With more than 50 pirate attacks this year off the Somali coast—including at least six commercial vessels this past week alone—it is clear that the problem is rapidly getting worse.
“The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy have been crucial in preventing and intervening in pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa, as have the contributions of the international community to patrol this region. Unfortunately, the pirates have responded by adapting to the heightened security, spreading their range to extend further out to sea.
“I convened a hearing in February to examine international piracy on the high seas, which reaffirmed the complexity of this issue. Even with the best system in place to capture and detain pirates, we will never fully be able to eradicate piracy if we ignore the underlying problems leading individuals down this road. We absolutely must unite as an international community to help bring stability to Somalia, where political and economic conditions have fueled the increase in pirate attacks in the Horn of Africa region.
“We cannot allow our focus to shift away from the critical importance of combating piracy after the Maersk Alabama incident is resolved and its crew has safely returned home. Although this is the first U.S.-flagged ship to be seized by pirates, the threat of future attacks will remain as long as the problems in the Horn of Africa continue to fester.”