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The Associated Press April 19, 2011, 3:17PM ET

Diplomats, businessmen urge tougher piracy fight

Diplomats and shipping industry officials wrapped up a counterpiracy conference in Dubai on Tuesday by calling for a stronger public-private effort to tackle Somalia-based pirates preying on international shipping.

A final statement issued at the end of the two-day event urges countries and industry to "actively pursue a comprehensive and fully resourced approach" to fighting piracy attacks, which hit a record level earlier this year.

It specifically called on states to seek the prosecution and imprisonment of suspected pirates, to maintain their military deterrence, and to work on halting the illicit financing on which pirates rely.

The United States and several European and Asian nations have sent warships to patrol the waters off Somalia, particularly along the strategic shipping lanes leading through the Gulf of Aden. Their presence acts as a deterrent, but has also pushed pirates to operate further out at sea.

Participants at the Dubai conference urged further financial support to Somalia to build its economy and security forces to deter attacks.

More than $5 million was pledged to a United Nations trust fund aimed at fighting piracy and other development projects in Africa, according to the closing statement. Included in the total was $1 million from host nation the United Arab Emirates, along with separate donations from state-controlled seaport companies based in the Gulf nation.

Augustine Mahiga, the UN's special representative for Somalia, said it was the first time companies rather than governments had put up money to support the fund.

"The private sector and the governmental sector, they can work with the United Nations hand in hand to protect the human life overseas," said Saeed al-Shamsi, the UAE's assistant foreign minister for international organizations.

The trust fund was set up in January 2010 to help defray the cost of prosecuting suspected pirates and pay for other counterpiracy initiatives. Mahiga told reporters that more than $7 million was pledged last year, and said he was hopeful donors would give even more in 2011.

Impoverished Somalia has a weak federal government with little power to fight piracy or prosecute captured suspects on its own.

Delegates in Dubai urged the federal government in the capital Mogadishu to cooperate with the country's largely autonomous regional authorities on security and judiciary matters to help bolster the international counterpiracy fight.

There were a record high 142 piracy attacks worldwide in the first quarter of this year, the International Maritime Bureau, a global maritime watchdog, said last week. Nearly 70 percent or 97 of the attacks occurred off the coast of Somalia, up sharply from 35 in the same period a year earlier.

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