MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Rampant piracy off Somalia is forcing shipping companies to avoid the Suez Canal and send cargoes of oil and other goods on a longer journey around southern Africa, industry officials said on Thursday.
Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk is routing some of its 50 oil tankers around the Cape of Good Hope instead and Intertanko said many other tanker firms were doing the same.
Norway's Frontline, which ferries much of the Middle East's oil to world markets, said it was considering a similar step.
They were responding to Saturday's spectacular capture by Somali pirates of a Saudi Arabian supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of oil, the biggest ship hijacking in history.
Scores of attacks in Somali waters this year have driven up insurance costs for shipping firms and the decision to divert cargo around South Africa risks pushing up prices for manufactured goods and commodities.
"We need immediate action from governments to protect these vital trade lanes -- robust action in the form of greater naval and military support with a clear mandate to engage, to arrest pirates and to bring them to trial," Intertanko said.
The head of the International Maritime Organization, Efthimios Mitropoulos, warned of "a series of negative repercussions" if ships had to reroute.
He said going around the Cape added about 12 days to a typical Gulf-to-Europe voyage, delaying oil supplies, and potentially raising freight rates by 25 to 30 percent.
Mitropoulos urged the U.N. Security Council to strengthen the mandate of anti-piracy forces with "clear rules of engagement" and to make states bring to justice pirates they captured.
PEACE ON LAND
Forces from NATO, the European Union and elsewhere are trying to protect vessels on one of the world's busiest shipping routes, linking Europe to Asia. Many analysts say there can be no lasting end to the piracy without peace on land.
"It must be addressed by relevant authorities and the international community," said Soren Skou, Maersk partner and board member. "It is not a problem that A.P. Moller-Maersk or the shipping industry can solve alone."
The African Union's top diplomat, Jean Ping, said on Thursday the United Nations should send peacekeepers to Somalia urgently to stop the strife that is fuelling piracy and is aggravated by feuding politicians in Somalia.
The U.N. Security Council voted on Thursday to impose sanctions on anyone contributing to violence and instability in Somalia.
The British-drafted resolution calls for asset freezes and travel bans for anyone engaging in or supporting violence, including individuals or companies that violate a 1992 U.N. arms embargo against the country.
Faced with problems encountered by U.N. peacekeeping forces in Congo and Sudan, the council has been reluctant to send troops into Somalia, a situation it sees as even worse.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Thursday the alliance would continue to patrol the seas but would not get involved on land.
"Piracy is a very serious challenge and we have to fight it, but I think if you come to the part of these operations, for instance on land, then it is first and foremost up to the United Nations and not organizations like NATO to get deeply involved," he told reporters during a visit to Ghana.
Senior officials from Arab League states, meeting in Egypt, said African countries were unable to deal with the attacks and called for intervention by Europe, the United States and big Asian countries.
OTHER SHIPS HIJACKED
Since seizing the supertanker Sirius Star, pirates have hijacked at least three other ships, maritime officials say.
Ahmed, an associate of the pirates who gave only one name, told Reuters the Sirius Star was anchored at Gan, 28 km (17 miles) east of the port of Haradheere.
"It is around ten miles out at sea. There has been no demand for ransom so far. There are about 30 Somali pirates on board," he said.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Wednesday the ship's owners were in negotiations over a possible ransom payment.
The audacity of the attack underlined the extent of a crime wave that experts say has been fueled by the Islamist insurgency onshore and multi-million-dollar ransoms.
"Part of the answer to the problem of piracy is going to be to try to engineer some progress inside of Somalia toward some more effective means of governance," ambassador William Bellamy, director of the U.S. Defense Department's Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told reporters in Dakar.
There were signs on Thursday of a worsening rift at the top of Somalia's Western-backed Transitional Federal Government, which regional leaders say is hindering the peace process.
Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein told a news conference in Mogadishu that he disagreed with a request by President Abdullahi Yusuf to shift peace talks to Libya from Djibouti, saying it would undermine the U.N.-brokered process.
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