Somali official warns pirates may become warlords

Hijacking ships for ransom off the coast of Somalia has made rich men of many pirates who could become the strife-ridden African country's new warlords, a Somali official said. The stark warning delivered Tuesday at an international piracy conference adds urgency to the fight against the pirates who have emerged as the biggest threat to global merchant shipping. This year alone bandits operating in and around the Gulf of Aden have attacked 81 ships, hijacking 29 of them. A German-owned ship was released last week, Germany's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, but pirates are still holding more than a dozen vessels and hundreds of crew, mainly in the semiautonomous Puntland region of Somalia. With most attacks ending with million-dollar ransom payouts, piracy is considered the biggest moneymaker in Somalia, which has had no stable government since warlords overthrew the country's longtime dictator in 1991. Maritime experts have said pirates raked in up to $30 million in ransoms last year alone.