"We are wrestling with that right now. There`s not clear linkage but I`m loathe to hope or to assume it hasn`t occurred," Vice Admiral Mark Fox said.
Washington (ANTARA News/AFP) - A US Navy admiral on Wednesday called for using counter-terrorism tactics against Somali pirates, warning the gangs have extended their reach into the Indian Ocean and seized more hostages.

A tougher strategy was needed to address the growing danger of piracy, with commercial shipping now under increasing threat off India`s coast, said US Central Command naval forces chief Vice Admiral Mark Fox.

The number of hostages seized by the Somali pirates has jumped sharply, from 350 in September to 750 this month, he said.

The admiral called for "a change in approach that I think is warranted because the scope of the problem has expanded."

His comments suggested resorting to more military action usually associated with the US counter-terror campaign, including pre-emptive assaults and strikes by armed drones.

While Fox said the pirates` money trail and supply networks on shore needed to be tracked in the same aggressive way as counter-terror investigations, he stopped short of openly advocating for a more lethal approach.

He said there was debate between the United States and its partners about whether to employ more force against the pirates, with the European Union`s naval force opposed to escalating military action.

The commander said he was probing possible links between the pirates and Shebab militants inspired by Al-Qaeda, but acknowledged intelligence reports so far showed no "explicit" connection.

"We are wrestling with that right now. There`s not clear linkage but I`m loathe to hope or to assume it hasn`t occurred," he said.

Fox raised the possibility of financial ties between the pirates and Somali militants.

"There are both in Somalia, there`s a lot of money," he told reporters.

A concerted international effort involving an array of navies has succeeded in curtailing pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, with only one or two incidents since September, according to Fox.

But the pirates are now employing captured cargo vessels as "mother ships" that allow them to operate further out to sea, often beyond the reach of US and other naval patrols.

"The game changer here in the recent past has been now they`ve taken large vessels that have been pirated as mother ships," Fox said.

"So now a thousand miles off the coast of Somalia, you can put skiffs in the water."

With pirates sometimes operating within 300 nautical miles off India`s coast, the shipping industry was increasingly concerned.

"The pirates have adapted. They have gone places where we`re not," Fox said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH
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