Lene Espersen: Somali pirates will not hold the world to ransom

PIRACY can't be condemned too strongly. It is a breach of the most fundamental principles of the modern civilisation.

In the worst hit areas off the Horn of Africa no seafarers - be it on a merchant ship or yacht - can be safe at sea.

Today more than 600 seafarers are being kept as hostages by Somali pirates. They are all innocent victims of the unscrupulous hijackers operating in the Indian Ocean. Their families are afraid that they will never see their loved ones again.

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Piracy is unacceptable not only by all humanitarian, security and legal standards. On top of this come the economic impacts on the global trade and traffic. Though it is difficult to calculate, experts estimate the total cost of piracy to be approximately 10 billion in 2010.

From 2007 to 2010 the number of attacks and hijackings at sea more than quadrupled.

No single country could or should carry the burden alone. We all have a responsibility. As Denmark's minister for foreign affairs I encourage all governments and parties to take part in the global fight against piracy.

Today a broad range of countries around the world as well as multilateral and regional organisations are engaged in handling the challenges. But there is still room for improvement in our joint efforts. More needs to be done - and it needs to be done with comprehensive, concerted and international action.

United Nations secretary general Ban-ki-Moon has eloquently said, that "piracy is not a water-borne disease. It is a symptom of conditions on the ground".

I agree that long-term solutions have to be found in Somalia after two decades of conflict. Denmark is a strong supporter of long-term land-based solutions to the situation in Somali. Earlier this year my government prepared an ambitious and broad-based support package for Somalia covering a wide range of issues including diplomatic initiatives, security, governance, growth and employment as well as improved livelihoods.

Together with the United Kingdom, Denmark is playing a leading role in the international work to fight piracy. Recently the Danish government presented a comprehensive piracy strategy encompassing political, military, legal and capacity building measures. Any viable solution requires stronger national mechanisms for prosecution and incarceration of apprehended pirates.

Denmark is chairing the international working group under the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia dealing with these crucial legal issues. The group, consisting of representatives from more than 55 countries and organisations, met for the eighth time in Copenhagen this week.

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The working group has contributed significantly to facilitating co-operation between states on the legal aspects of piracy. This co-operation includes inter alia common legal standards in several areas linked to the military efforts and the prosecution of suspected pirates. The eighth meeting focused on the legal framework on post-trial transfer agreements and legal aspects of the use of private armed guards.

In the context of the legal working group, Denmark and the UK have had a very fruitful co-operation. I look forward to continue the dialogue between our two countries.

To complement the legal efforts, Denmark has committed herself to continue our contribution to Nato's naval operations at sea off the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Ocean. Our contribution includes a support ship including crew and helicopter. In addition, Denmark will deploy a maritime patrol aircraft to support the naval operation periodically.

A viable solution requires the establishment of stronger capacities locally. We need to build up the coastguards in the region as well as police and prison capacities, not least in Somalia, so that Somali pirates can serve their sentence in Somali prisons. These are also elements in the Danish strategy and will be financed by the Danish Stabilisation Fund.

Combating piracy is a complex task. We need to use all the tools in the tool box. We need participation from many countries and parties around the world. I look forward to continued co-operation between the UK and Denmark.

• Lene Espersen is the Danish foreign minister

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