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Somalia wants help to set up coast guard

WAR-TORN Somalia's government appealed yesterday for international help to set up a coast guard, saying it would guarantee that sea piracy near its shores would be wiped out.

However, representatives of the east African nation's government - attending an international conference on piracy - ruled out allowing foreign forces on Somali soil to destroy pirate bases.

Somali officials said that although a multinational naval task force is patrolling the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, it cannot effectively control the pirates who hijack merchant vessels and tow them to coastal bases.

"Somalia needs a more effective coast guard to protect its sea, to protect our fishermen and to protect foreign ships against piracy," Somalia's deputy prime minister, Abdirahman Aden Ibbi, said in a speech delivered by the deputy director of the country's National Security Agency.

Embroiled in a series of civil wars, Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991 - a situation that has spawned pirate gangs along the country's 3,100-kilometer coastline.

The pirates have become increasingly brazen in the past two years, hijacking dozens of merchant ships for ransom worth millions of dollars. As of May 15, pirates have hijacked 29 ships and took 472 crew hostage, according to the International Maritime Bureau watchdog. The pirates are still holding 14 ships, many in the Puntland semiautonomous region of Somalia.

Aden's speech said a well-trained and well-equipped coast guard was the only solution to fighting piracy. "We, the Somali government, will guarantee if we were to get the kind of support we have been asking for," there will be no more pirates in Somali waters, he said.

Captain Richard Farrington, chief of staff for the European Union naval force, told reporters that an estimated 60 warships are needed to patrol the Gulf of Aden and 150 in eastern and southern coast of Somalia. Currently, there are only 25 frigates in the region.

Puntland Security Minister Abdullah Said Samatar told reporters at the conference that a coast guard of two or three patrol boats would be enough to put down the pirates.


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