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Major shipper skirts Gulf of Aden to avoid pirates


MOGADISHU — One of the world's biggest shipping firms said on Thursday it will no longer send part of its huge merchant fleet through the Suez Canal because of rampant piracy off Somalia's coast.

Danish shipper A.P. Moller-Maersk is routing some of its 50 oil tankers around the Cape of Good Hope instead.

Norway's Frontline, which ferries much of the Middle East's oil to world markets, said it was considering a similar step.

The move follows Saturday's spectacular capture by Somali pirates of a huge Saudi Arabian supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of oil, the biggest ship hijacking in history.

The scores of attacks in Somali waters this year have driven up insurance costs for shipping firms and the decision to divert cargo around South Africa risks pushing up prices for manufactured goods and commodities.

Forces from NATO, the European Union and elsewhere are trying to protect vessels on one of the world's busiest shipping routes, linking Europe to Asia. But many analysts say there can be no lasting end to the piracy without peace on land.

“It must be addressed by relevant authorities and the international community,” said Soren Skou, Maersk partner and board member. “It is not a problem that A.P. Moller-Maersk or the shipping industry can solve alone.”

The African Union's top diplomat, Jean Ping, said on Thursday the United Nations should send peacekeepers to Somalia urgently to stop the strife that is fuelling piracy and is aggravated by feuding politicians in the Horn of Africa nation.

Diplomats in the region say there is little hope of any speedy UN intervention in Somalia and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Thursday the alliance would continue to patrol the seas but not get involved on land.

“Piracy is a very serious challenge and we have to fight it, but I think if you come to the part of these operations, for instance on land, then it is first and foremost up to the United Nations and not organizations like NATO to get deeply involved,” he told reporters during a visit to Ghana.

Senior officials from Arab League states, meeting in Egypt, said African nations were unable to deal with the attacks and called for intervention by Europe, the United States and big Asian nations.

Since seizing the supertanker Sirius Star, pirates have hijacked at least three other ships, maritime officials say. The tanker's owners are in ransom talks but Britain said on Thursday that rewarding the gunmen could create more problems.

The audacity of the attack underlined the extent of a crime wave that experts say has been fuelled by the Islamist insurgency onshore and multi-million-dollar ransoms.

“Part of the answer to the problem of piracy is going to be to try to engineer some progress inside of Somalia towards some more effective means of governance,” Ambassador William Bellamy, director of the U.S. Defense Department's Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told reporters in Dakar.

“This is not an area where the United States is unilaterally going to seek to come up with solutions to a problem, regardless of how urgent that problem might be,” he said.

There were also signs on Thursday of a worsening rift at the top of Somalia's Western-backed Transitional Federal Government, which regional leaders say is hindering the peace process.

Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein told a news conference in Mogadishu that he disagreed with a request by President Abdullahi Yusuf to shift peace talks to Libya from Djibouti, saying it would undermine the U.N.-brokered process.

In an interview with Reuters this week, Mr. Hussein said Mr. Yusuf was an “obstacle” to progress in Somalia.

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