Clinton: U.S. To Freeze Pirates' Assets

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she's looking for 21st century solutions to a centuries old problem: Piracy. She says the U.S. will work with its partners to freeze the assets of pirates who have been raiding ships off the coast of Somalia. She's also trying to work with officials on land in a lawless country in the horn of Africa.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Richard Phillips, the American sea captain who was captured by pirates last week, has finally reached land. The American naval ship that rescued him, the USS Bainbridge, sailed into the Kenyan port of Mombasa today.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Home Alabama")

INSKEEP: And in honor of Phillip's ship, which is called the Maersk Alabama, the Bainbridge crew ceremoniously raised the flag and played this song…

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Home Alabama")

INSKEEP: "Sweet Home Alabama." Before dawn on Thursday, the other members of the Maersk Alabama crew arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. They had a reunion with their families.

And yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she's looking for 21st century solutions to the centuries-old problem of piracy. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton announced several initiatives at the State Department yesterday afternoon, including a bid to track down and freeze the assets of the pirates. Asked how the U.S. might do that, she said officials will draw on experience they've had tracking terror financing and the drug trade.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): We have noticed that the pirates are buying more and more sophisticated equipment. They're buying faster and more capable vessels. They are clearly using their ransom money for their benefit, both personally and on behalf of their piracy. And we think we can begin to try to track and prevent that from happening.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton also plans to send an envoy to a Somali donors conference in Brussels next week. And she says the State Department will seek out advice from Somali government officials, as well as regional leaders in the semi-autonomous area known as Puntland, where most of the pirates are based.

Secretary CLINTON: We have a pretty good idea where the land bases are and we want to know what the Somali government, what tribal leaders, who perhaps would not like to have the international community bearing down on them, would be willing to do to rid their territory of these pirate bases.

KELEMEN: The U.S. will find a weak government that doesn't have the resources to fight piracy but wants to. That's according to Congressman Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat who made a rare and dangerous trip to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, this week. He says the international community has been focusing too much on piracy and not enough on the root causes.

Representative DONALD PAYNE (Democrat, New Jersey): There is a realization that there is a need to have some strengthening of the government in order to attack piracy. The president of Somalia said that it has to be done on land, that you lose when you try to fight piracy on the seas.

KELEMEN: Congressman Payne says the Somali government is asking for intelligence sharing and training for its security forces. It also wants to stop illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping in its waters, something the country, without a real government, has been unable to do for years now.

Rep. PAYNE: Some of these pirates, of course, are former fisherman. That's why they're so adapted to the water. But there are no fish to go after to fish. And unfortunately, it certainly don't justify piracy, but these are ingredients, and when they continue to go in, the result is what you get.

KELEMEN: Congressman Payne would like to see the U.S. and other donors pitch in much needed aid to support Somalia's government, to bring some normalcy to life there. Secretary Clinton says next week's donors conference will address the need for development aid, though piracy is clearly the pressing issue now.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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