Regional States, countries patrolling the pirate-infested waters off Somalia, and United Nations agencies are set to adopt an agreement this week to reinforce the fight against a scourge that has seen dozens of ships held for ransom in recent years, including vessels carrying UN food aid for millions of hungry Somalis.
Under the accord, signatories agree to arrest, investigate and prosecute actual or suspected pirates, seize their boats and rescue ships under attack. The agreement also covers possible hot pursuit into another country's territorial waters, and shared operations such as nominating officers to embark in the patrol ships or aircraft of another signatory.
But Somalia itself, which has not had a functioning central Government since 1991 and is riven by warring factions, is also expected to play a large part.
"One can have few hopes that the situation at sea will improve dramatically unless and until there is significant improvement on the political front on land," UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos told the opening session of the four-day meeting, convened by his agency, on Monday in the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti.
"For it is favourable political developments ashore that will help stem the scourge offshore. The fate of Somalia is in the hands of the people of Somalia as they, and they alone, are, and should be, the masters of their country and its destiny. We wish their leaders courage, wisdom, prudence and determination to bring peace and stability to their country and among its citizens."
Transport ministers and ambassadors of regional countries, States that have sent naval forces to protect shipping, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and United Kingdom, and officials of international organizations cooperating with IMO, including the UN World Food Programme (WFP) are attending the meeting.
Mr. Mitropoulos stressed that the contributing alliances of Governments, organizations and individual countries such as the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia had done their duty and that the time had now come for regional States to add their own contribution.
Regional States attending include Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
In December, the UN Security Council unanimously called on countries and regional bodies with the necessary capacity to deploy naval ships and military aircraft off the Somali coast to fight piracy, including possible action against pirate bases on land.
Apart from chartered WFP ships, recent seizures by pirates have included a Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship with arms on board.