Chairman Cummings Statement on Piracy Hearing

Thursday, February 05, 2009

On Feb. 4, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, released the statement below following today’s Subcommittee hearing on International Piracy and the High Seas:

“While the term ‘pirate’ may for many conjure romantic images of swashbuckling adventurers, there is in fact nothing romantic about a poor individual from a failing state waiting in a small skiff to attack vulnerable cargo ships with a rocker-propelled grenade launcher. Piracy threatens the lives of innocent mariners and threatens to increase shipping rates at a time of deepening economic recession.

“As we learned in today’s hearing, international piracy on the High Seas is a complicated issue that cannot be resolved overnight. The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy have been critical in preventing and intervening in pirate attacks through Combined Task Force 151 and its Coast Guard law enforcement detachment, and the contributions of the international community to patrol the Horn of Africa region have been instrumental in helping our cause. It is only through the united effort of the international community that we will be able to bring peace to our seas.

“It is imperative that we continue to garner regional support in the Horn of Africa to assist us in the difficulty of handling pirates once they have been detained. There are currently several efforts underway to increase regional and international cooperation on the arrest, detention, and trial of pirates, and we must be quick in implementing any agreement that is reached to this end.

“Unfortunately, we can have the best system in place to capture and detain pirates, but the structure will never be complete if we ignore the underlying problems that are leading individuals down the road of piracy. Although pirate attacks have decreased overall in recent years, the number of attacks in the Horn of Africa has increased dramatically. In fact, nearly half of the world’s pirate attacks last year occurred in this region. There is no doubt that the political and economic conditions of Somalia have fueled these incidents, and we must unite as an international community to help bring stability to that nation.

“Although no U.S.-flagged vessels have been attacked or seized by pirates, the consequences of piracy in the Horn of Africa—a highly traveled region—will undoubtedly spill over onto our shores and threaten an economy already in recession. Many vessels carrying U.S.-bound cargo have already been targeted, as well as ships owned by U.S. citizens.  Additionally, many shipping companies have been forced to divert away from the Horn of Africa, adding additional time and fuel costs, and many ships have seen insurance rate increases. Additionally, at least one shipping line has been forced to add ‘pirate premiums’ to their shipping costs. This is a very serious issue, and we must do everything we can to put an end to it.”

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