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Piracy latest: Red Sea nations in emergency talks

Cairo: Arab Red Sea states have held an emergency meeting in Cairo on Thursday to discuss the threat of piracy off Somalia, with Egypt saying all options were on the table to deal with the growing crisis. Senior officials from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen met for the talks amid growing international frustration over a situation described by the International Maritime Bureau as "out of control." Pirates at the weekend seized the Saudi-owned Sirius Star oil tanker, the largest ship yet taken and the attack furthest away from Somalia.
With three more ships captured since the Sirius Star was taken, foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said Egypt would consider all possibilities in dealing with the crisis.
"The Egyptian national security establishment works intensively on all options, examines what measures could be taken in this regard, and decides whether a diplomatic and political solution will be preferred."
"All options are open," Egypt's official MENA news agency quoted him as saying.
Egypt relies heavily on revenue from traffic using the Suez Canal between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and Zaki said that some vessels are now taking alternative routes.
Suez is Egypt's third-largest source of revenue after tourism and remittances from expatriate workers, and currently about 7.5 percent of global trade passes through the canal.
"The phenomenon is threatening navigation in the Red Sea, causing some vessels to take other routes," Zaki said.
The piracy threat has already prompted Norwegian shipping company Odfjell to order its ships to use the longer, more expensive but safer route around Cape of Good Hope, thus avoiding the Suez Canal and the Somali coast.
Zaki said Thursday's meeting "aims to promote coordination among the Arab countries overlooking Red Sea to discuss this unusual situation."
Yemen, which is co-hosting the talks, last week complained that the heavy deployment of multinational naval forces in the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy could pose a threat to Arab security.
"The intensive multinational military presence in the southern outlet of the Red Sea is worrying," Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi said.
Naval forces from the United States, Russia, Europe and elsewhere are patrolling the dangerous Gulf of Aden in an attempt to curb piracy attacks.
But the United States, which also has warships patrolling off Somalia, said a military approach was not the answer.
"You could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it's not going to ever solve this problem," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said on Wednesday.
"It requires a holistic approach from the international community at sea, ashore, with governance, with economic development," he told reporters.  [21/11/08]


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