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Indian Frigate Sinks Pirate Ship in Gulf of Aden

There have been two more pirate attacks in Somali waters off the coast of Africa. It brings the number of attacks to eight in the past 12 days. The number of pirate attacks off the coast of Africa has risen 75 percent this year. Video by AP

Maritime experts say powerful warlords in Somalia hire fishermen to become pirates and then try to extract hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom from the owners of hijacked boats. Total ransom payments have reached $30 million this year, experts said. The warlords use the money to buy more sophisticated weapons and equipment.

In a country where the life expectancy is 46 years, piracy has become a mini-industry, spawning side businesses in coastal areas, including jobs for those who cook and care for the captives until an agreement is reached. That can take months.

India has an economic interest in ensuring the safety of foreign-owned cargo ships in the Gulf of Aden. About 85 percent of India's sea trade on the route is carried by ships not owned by the country, and about a third of its 900 cargo ships deployed in international waters are at risk.

"We are very, very concerned about growing piracy as it is hurting business," said Shashank Kulkarni, secretary general of the Indian National Shipowners Association in Mumbai.

The Tabar has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden since Oct. 23. It has escorted 35 ships safely through the "pirate-infested waters," the navy's statement said. Last week, helicopter-borne Indian marine commandos stopped pirates from boarding and hijacking an Indian merchant vessel.

"These are uneasy times for everyone who has been in sea. It's obviously reached the point of a global crisis," said Cmdr. Nirad Sinha, a spokesman for India's navy. "There's no doubt that all countries have to cooperate with each other and figure this out."

Morrell said piracy is leading to a tenfold increase in the premiums for sending cargo through the Gulf of Aden.

"This is enormously expensive, just the insurance part of this, let alone the ransom part of this for these companies," he said.

The Pentagon is working with the State Department to renew a Security Council resolution, set to expire next month, that authorizes the U.S. military to carry out counter-piracy operations in Somali waters.

"This subject is being dealt with at the highest levels of this government. It is a real concern," Morrell said.

Morrell said that despite a rise in the number of pirate attacks, an increased presence of the U.S. and other navies in the Gulf of Aden has meant fewer successful attacks. He said pirates had a success rate of 53 percent before August, compared with 31 percent in October.

Morrell also said detaining pirates poses "a huge problem."

"Let's say you capture a bunch of pirates," he said. "What do you do with them?"

Tyson reported from Washington. Correspondent Faiza Saleh Ambah in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, contributed to this report.

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