LONDON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Britain says it has earmarked $3.56 million to support U.N. anti-piracy efforts that seek to build prisons and upgrade the justice system in Somalia.
Most of the funding is targeted for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime's Post Trial Transfer Program, which is helping to construct a new prison in Puntland designed to hold convicted pirates in facilities that meet international standards, British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said Monday.
Despite progress last year in reducing the number of pirate attacks on international shipping off the coast of Somalia, the British official warned the effort is hardly "mission accomplished."
Progress is fragile and reversible," he cautioned. "One-hundred-eight hostages remain in pirate hands, often subjected to terrible conditions with no knowledge of when, or even if, they will be released," Burt said in address to the U.K. Chamber of Shipping.
"So we must stay the course; take the opportunity to press home our advantage and make the waters off the coast of Somalia safe once again."
He noted that 2012 saw a "dramatic decline" in pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, falling 80 percent from the 2011 level to 35 last year.
NATO, which is part of a combined maritime security force that also includes EU members, China and Russia, credits the drop in pirate attacks to a combination of factors including stepped-up naval patrols closer to the Somali shore.
Britain is aiming to build on that progress by helping Somalia rebuild its justice system so that Somali pirates can expect that if they are captured they will be made to serve time in the their own country, thus establishing a credible deterrent.
One of the chief problems facing the anti-piracy efforts has been the lack of clear jurisdiction in which to capture and try accused hijackers as 1,000 suspected Somali hijackers were awaiting trial in different countries.
Last year London spent $870,000 to fund the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Coordination Center in the Seychelles to help with international policing efforts but prison capacity on the islands is very small.
The 4-year-old UNODC Counter Piracy Program, meanwhile, has been set up to support law enforcement officials in Kenya, Seychelles, Mauritius, Tanzania and the Maldives who are dealing with Somali piracy.
The program is assisting Somalia with upgrading its prisons and courts with the aim of ensuring that Somali pirates convicted in other countries can serve their sentences in their home country.
"As the facilities in Somalia are developed, we are seeing that prisoners convicted by regional partners can be transferred back to Somalia to serve their sentences," Burt said. "In March last year, the Seychelles transferred 17 convicted pirates to Somalia."
In another sign of progress on the issue, a Somali diplomat said last week Somali pirates serving sentences in Kenyan jails will be transferred to their home country.
Somali Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali Ameriko told Shabelle Media Network that the transfer plan has been requested by his country.
Ameriko didn't indicate the how many Somali were pirates being held in Kenyan jails but said most were serving sentences at a maximum-security facility in Mombasa.
A date for the transfer wasn't announced.