Thomas Kelly, the US State Department official in charge of counter-piracy policy, told The Daily Telegraph a small group of very wealthy men were instrumental in the growth and spread of Somalian piracy.
Mr Kelly's campaign to prosecute the men under corruption and money laundering laws could be the coup de grace against pirates that at one point represented the gravest threat to world trade in decades.
"That's how we got Al Capone, he went to jail because of tax fraud. One of the main areas of multilateral work and in places like Interpol is to try to focus on the kingpins," he said. "Just incarcerating young Somali men who are the foot soldiers isn't going to eradicate the problem by itself."
With global backing, all of the men could be facing the courts with the next "couple of years", he added.
"You have to go after the people who are buying the boats, buying the weapons and then laundering the money in Africa and other places. Money laundering is a global business they're not keeping it in one place you need to have law enforcement in many different places talking to each other."
. . . Taking into account higher insurance premiums and other costs to shipping firms, the overall economic cost to the world economy inflicting by Somalia piracy was estimated as $12 billion (£7.5 billion) in 2010 alone.But take note of this:
Figures released by the International Maritime Organisation show a dramatic drop in piracy this year. It catalogued just 70 incidents in the first nine months, a 75 per cent fall off from the same period in 2011 and a three year low.
Mr Kelly said that the combination of increased patrolling by navies from the US, Europe and Asia as well as the employment of armed guards on ships was a turning point in the battle against piracy.(Underline added).
"There was a lot of reticence in a lot of places about using these crews but people learned through experience that this was a critically important factor in reducing the number of instances," Mr Kelly said. "Its hard enough to climb up the side of a ship with a Kalashnikov on your back but it's harder when you have some someone shooting down at you."
Four fifths of container ships and tankers now carry armed guards, leaving pirates with fewer targets to go after.
"Pirates break off attack and look for softer targets," he said. "We estimate 80 per cent of ships are using private security. We'd like it to be 100 per cent."