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The Puntland State of Somalia hired a lobbying firm in Washington to combat more Somali pirates

A region of Somalia that is home to many of the pirates who have made national news terrorizing area waters is seeking help from K Street to calm the troubled seas.

The Puntland State of Somalia, an autonomous region in northeastern Somalia formed in 1998, has hired a lobbying firm in Washington, hoping to make the case that lawmakers on Capitol Hill should send money their way to combat piracy and reduce terrorism in the chaotic Gulf of Aden region.

Puntland’s president hired Duane Morris at the end of February, according to Department of Justice records.

Piracy has become a high-profile issue in the United States after pirates attacked two U.S.-flag ships off the coast of Somalia this month. Lawmakers in the House and Senate are pressing for solutions to the problem, and the Obama administration is working with the international community to try to stabilize Somalia.

Most Somali pirates operate out of Puntland and are members of different clans, according to a Congressional Research Service report published in February. Many of the pirates are reportedly fishermen and former militia members of the Somali warlords. Though autonomous, Puntland said it wants to work with the government of Somalia.

Duane Morris, a law and government affairs firm, has agreed to represent Puntland in Washington and make the case in Congress and within the Obama administration to obtain assistance and funds for security, infrastructure, social services, healthcare, mass media and the democratization process.

According to documents filed with the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) at the Justice Department, Duane Morris is assisting Puntland for a period of three months, until May 29. After that, the contract will continue on a month-to-month basis at a consulting fee of $10,000 a month.

The managing director on the contract is James Hill, who joined Duane Morris in October 2008. At press time, Hill was traveling in Nairobi, Kenya, where he met with Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud Farole. Hill said in an e-mail exchange that Farole on Wednesday personally signed an anti-piracy statement and action plan.

Hill did not elaborate on the anti-piracy statement, and a spokesman for Duane Morris, Joshua Peck, said the firm would not comment further on the nature of its contract and activities with Puntland’s government.

Farole lived in Australia for 10 years before his election and attended the State University of New York at Albany. In his victory speech, Farole vowed to tackle the pervasive piracy problem off the Somali coast, including cracking down on local authorities who have reportedly collaborated with pirates in return for a share of the profits.

Farole, who has been in power for three months, was in Nairobi this week to plead for international assistance to set up a task force that could rein in soaring pirate attacks against ships in the region. He said he was drawing up plans for a special anti-piracy task force, composed of 2,400 men, according to Agence France Presse. International donors had been reluctant to pour cash into homegrown anti-piracy efforts for fear that senior officials had stakes in piracy. Farole, according to reports, denied such links.

Almost 200 representatives from around the world, including Somalia’s new president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, will attend an international donors conference in Belgium to help stabilize Somalia.

The struggling Somali government has also been presenting a plan to envoys from the European Union and the United States to fight pirates by building up military forces and establishing intelligence-gathering posts along its coastline. Somalia’s coastline is 1,900 miles long, but the shaky Somali government controls only a few square blocks of the capital, Mogadishu, with the help of African peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week that a State Department diplomatic team will meet with the Somali government and regional leaders in Puntland. Congress still has to approve a $5 million administration request to improve Somali security services.

As of Wednesday, pirates still held 17 ships and more than 250 crewmembers hostage, none of them American.

The only surviving pirate of a group that attacked the Maersk Alabama this month and held the U.S. captain hostage is facing trial in New York.

Experts say that in 2008, pirates launching from Puntland attacked more than 130 ships and hijacked close to 50. Ransom payments for the past year amounted to around $50 million, nearly matching the total budget of the Puntland government.

Puntland’s new contract with Duane Morris is not the breakaway region’s first foray into Washington lobbying. Puntland hired Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvellas Meeds for several months in 2002, but the contract was terminated at the beginning of 2003.

Also, Somalia’s former president, ex-warlord Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, comes from the Puntland region, which he led for years. He became the president of Somalia’s Transitional Federal government in October 2004 and stepped down at the end of December 2008. His government in 2006 signed a contract with Africa United States Friendship & Economic Development Group (U.S. FED Group). According to Justice Department records, that account is still active, but requests for comment were not returned by press time.



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