Piracy group: Make sure Somali pirates aren't paid

A U.K.-led Piracy Ransom Task Force says the shipping industry must adopt additional measures to ensure that payments aren't made to pirates after a successful attack.

The task force's final recommendations noted that more than $300 million in ransoms has been paid to Somali pirates since 2008.

The success of piracy attacks off Somalia has dropped markedly over the last year, mainly because of increased coordination from international navies and because ships are increasing their defenses, including the use of armed guards.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said international action is beating back piracy.

"The dramatic reduction in pirate activity in the past year shows how important collective action is, and the recommendations of the Task Force should make it harder for pirates to receive, and to profit from, ransom payments," Cameron said as the task force's findings were released late Tuesday.

"But seafarers of all nations remain at risk, and we must continue to work to break the piracy business model, with the ultimate ambition of bringing an end to ransom payments," he said.

Somali pirates hijacked 46 ships in 2009 and 47 in 2010, the European Union Naval Force said. In 2011, pirates launched a record number of attacks - 176 - but commandeered only 25 ships, an indication that new on-board defenses were working.

Only five ships have been hijacked this year, the EU Naval Force said. The last was taken on May 10. The sudden drop in ransom payments has ended a pirate party culture that popped up on Somalia's shores, as pirates paid for lavish parties, including drugs and prostitutes, with millions in ransom money.

Close to 140 seafarers are still held by Somali pirates, though that's way down from the height of the piracy crisis, when more than 600 hostages were held at once.

Early Monday, heavily armed forces from Puntland, a northern region of Somalia, clashed with pirates escorting a speedboat carrying supplies and ammunition for pirates holding a ship - the MV Iceberg 1 - pirates have held for more than two years. The MV Iceberg 1 is a Panama-flagged cargo ship that was hijacked March 29, 2010.

One Puntland official said the aim was to seize the boat and arrest pirates, but he said the mission failed after pirates fought back. The official spoke on condition he wasn't identified because he's not authorized to speak to the media.

The U.K. taskforce noted that there are no actions that can simply and immediately bring a halt to ransom payments, but it said that increased coordination among all piracy fighters could reduce the payments of ransoms, the legality of which is being more closely scrutinized by governments.

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Associated Press reporter Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia contributed to this report.