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Interpol Compiling Somali Piracy Suspect Database

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Interpol is compiling a database of fingerprints, photographs and other personal information on Somali pirate suspects to help fight piracy at sea, the agency said Wednesday.

The information can be accessed by any of the agency's 187 member countries.

"Without systematically collecting photographs, fingerprints and DNA profiles of arrested pirates and comparing them internationally, it is simply not possible to establish their true identity or to make connections which would otherwise be missed," Interpol's Executive Director of Police Services, Jean-Michel Louboutin, said in a statement released Wednesday at the agency's headquarters in Lyon, France.

Despite international patrols, piracy has exploded in the Gulf of Aden and around Somalia's 1,900-mile (3,060-kilometer) coastline — the longest in Africa.

Pirates are able to operate freely because Somalia has had no effective central government in nearly 20 years. Nearly every public institution has crumbled, and the weak, U.N.-backed government is fighting an Islamic insurgency.

The international community is grappling with how and where to try captured pirates. The United States, Britain and the European Union have signed agreements allowing for piracy suspects to be handed over to Kenya for trial.

Kenya, which is holding more than 100 piracy suspects from neighboring Somalia, has agreed to send photographs and fingerprints from those being held here on piracy charges, Interpol said. Interpol's bureau in the Seychelles islands already has provided information on its 23 suspects.

Many nations are wary of hauling in pirates for trial for fear of being saddled with them after they serve out prison terms. There is talk of setting up a special piracy tribunal there akin to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

There are doubts that Kenya, which is still recovering from postelection turmoil in 2007 that left more than 1,000 people dead, would be able to handle the costly and complicated task of trying all or even most cases that emerge from the exploding piracy crisis in the Indian Ocean.

Seasonal monsoons have hampered pirate activity recently in the Indian Ocean, and the relative lull is expected to continue until at least the end of August, when the rough weather subsides, a maritime watchdog said.

"Small skiffs will find it difficult to operate in these conditions," said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau. "We expect a dramatic reduction in the attacks in the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea."

The last successful hijacking of a ship in the Indian Ocean was on May 2, and the last attempted hijacking in the area occurred on May 19, according to the bureau.

Somalia has been mired in anarchy and chaos since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Experts have expressed fears that foreign Islamic militants could use Somalia as a base for terror.

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