Washington, April 21 (IANS) As India and the United States work out a "shared strategy" to combat piracy, its expanding range beyond the western Indian Ocean close to India's western coast has emerged as an issue of concern.
"India's a critical partner in our multilateral efforts to combat piracy," Tom Kelly, principal deputy assistant secretary for political military affairs, told foreign reporters Friday in a briefing on efforts to counter Somali piracy.
"Obviously, India is affected in many ways. As a participant in the global economy, obviously, India is also threatened by the pirate's attack on international mariners," he said.
"The pirates' range is expanding beyond the western Indian Ocean to areas in proximity to the western coast of India," Kelly said, "And that's obviously an issue of concern."
As the scope for piracy activities by Somali pirates expands, it increases the importance of commercial vessels following best management practices and considering the use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP), he said.
"Because even though we have an unprecedentedly large naval coalition that is participating to try to push back against the pirates, the Indian Ocean is simply too vast of a territory for naval forces alone to be able to control the problem," Kelly noted.
Kelly said he and US assistant secretary for political military affairs Andrew Shapiro, had recently travelled to India to talk about their shared strategy and efforts to combat piracy.
"As Indians know very well, a very significant percentage of the hostages taken are Indian citizens, Indian mariners," he said.
"And so the Indian navy and the Indian Government have been very active participants in acting against pirates. And I believe the Indian navy has had some encounters with Somali pirates," Kelly said.
India and the US also held their first formal political-military talks dialogue in several years earlier this week to discuss a broad range of important issues, including things like counter-piracy and peacekeeping, that have both foreign policy and security aspects.
"We found them to be very useful and we look forward to continuing political-military consultations with our friends in India, Kelly said.
The international coalition fighting piracy is "indeed succeeding very well," Kelly said noting, "There has been a 50 percent reduction just in the last year in this pirate success rate."
But there are 225 hostages and nine vessels held by pirates right now, he said. "Both of these numbers represent a significant reduction from last year, but 225 people held by pirates is still too many."
The US official said probably the most important long-term solution to resolving this problem is encouraging good governance and economic development in Somalia.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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