The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation today conducted a hearing on acts of piracy on the high seas, particularly off the Horn of Africa, and the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to address and respond to this growing international threat. The following is the statement of Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) from today's hearing:
"The Subcommittee is meeting this morning to review efforts by the United States and the international community to respond to piracy on the high seas and prevent future attacks. Since the Subcommittee's last hearing on this topic, Somali pirates have vastly expanded the range of their attacks on merchant vessels to encompass much of the western Indian Ocean. But even more alarming, the pirates have dramatically increased the number and viciousness of their attacks.
"This includes the recent hijacking of the U.S. sailing vessel QUEST, which ended in the ruthless murder of four U.S. citizens. I believe I speak for all of us on the Subcommittee when I express my sincerest condolences to the families of the victims and my outrage at this brutal violence against American citizens. As I said at our last hearing, piracy cannot be tolerated by the United States and the international community. This hearing provides us with the chance to examine ways to respond to the ongoing threat.
"Piracy has become a multimillion dollar industry as a result of ransoms that continue to be paid out by vessel ownership groups. I do not think we are tracking ransom payments to the extent that we should be. As a result, I am extremely concerned piracy could be benefiting the terrorist groups operating in Somalia and that these groups could use their profits to carry out terrorist acts here at home and abroad. At the same time, I am worried the federal government may hold vessel owners criminally liable for the ransoms they pay to free captive mariners.
"Many in the maritime community are looking at ways to enhance security of merchant vessels, including the placement of armed security personnel aboard ships. A vessel's crew has every right under U.S. and international law to defend themselves and their vessel. However, I do have some concerns about the guidance going out to these mariners and hope to hear more about how we keep them informed of the latest avoidance and response measures.
"The United States has placed Navy and Coast Guard assets in the region and has partnered with other nations to protect vessels in the area. I applaud the Services for taking action, but I am concerned about the effectiveness of these efforts. We know that several of the pirates captured by the naval forces of other countries are not being prosecuted. Instead, they are only returned to shore where they are free to resume their illegal activity. I am interested in learning more the procedures by which suspects are being prosecuted.
"Piracy is recognized internationally as a crime against all nations and to which all nations must respond. It is incumbent on us to examine ways to minimize, if not end, this threat and its impact on both world commerce and our own national economy."