By Kang Hyun-kyung
At the moment, no South Korean ships or sailors are held by Somali pirates, infamous for demanding high ransoms and their inhumane treatment of captives.
Despite this, ship owners and crew members who have to cross the vast Indian Ocean live in fear that they might be the pirates’ next target.
Against this backdrop, the chief negotiators of governments sharing this concern have come up with a plan focusing on freezing assets linked to maritime piracy.
About 80 participants from 30 countries and six international organizations attended the Ad Hoc Meeting on Financial Aspects of Somali Pirates held at a Seoul hotel Wednesday.
Moon Ha-young, ambassador for global counterterrorism cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has led the task force committee as the chair.
At the closed-door meeting, the negotiators agreed to build a global database on intelligence concerning Somali pirates and those financing their activities.
At the press briefing held after the meeting, Ambassador Moon called piracy “an organized crime” aimed at making a huge amount of cash.
“There are chief figures, those who orchestrate the piracy and investors who finance Somali pirates. If the cash flow is detected and their assets are frozen, things are going to be a lot easier because pirates are in it for the money,” he said.
“If pirates are not paid, they cannot afford to purchase weapons and naturally will be discouraged from continuing.”
Once the database system is built, the member governments will be allowed to have access to the information.
The negotiators also agreed to strengthen capacity building to track down the flow of cash earned from piracy and counter money laundering.
Under the plan, law enforcement authorities of one country will be encouraged to team up with those of other nations when investigating piracy.
The government negotiators and experts from international organizations, including Interpol, are scheduled to meet again in September to update the action plan.
The international effort to fight Somali pirates comes as they have expanded their operations into the Indian Ocean from their initial area of the waters of the Gulf of Aden.
Currently, 28 ships and 630 crew members are being held by pirates in Somalia.
Since 2006, nine South Korean ships have been hijacked near the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. All of them were freed.
Some paid high ransoms in return for the release. Sailors who were held by the pirates have suffered anxiety disorders even after their release.
Governments have sent navy vessels to escort commercial ships of their country when they sail on the dangerous waters.
But the limited number of navy vessels cannot escort all ships crossing the vast ocean, putting carriers and crews at risk.