WASHINGTON - Somali pirates are on the run and the international community must do more to trace the money trail to find their backers, the U.N. envoy to Somalia said on Thursday.

It is not acceptable that fundamental rights of freedom of navigation in a globalized world is threatened by a group of individuals who are doing it, first of all, for business. Piracy is a big, successful business, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, U.N. special representative for Somalia, told Reuters.

Somali pirates briefly hijacked the 17,000-tonne Maersk Alabama freighter on Wednesday, but the American crew regained control. The gunmen are holding the ship's captain hostage on a lifeboat in the Indian Ocean in their first seizure of U.S. citizens. This was the latest in a string of piracies of vessels in that region.

The international force in the heavily patrolled Gulf of Aden has had an impact and pushed the pirates further away, but if the U.N. Security Council does not help address the root causes of the anarchy it could spread and destabilize other African countries, Ould-Abdallah said.

We are facing a situation where the coastline is 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles), almost the length of the whole East Coast of the United States of America, he said.

Now pirates are, in a way, on the run. They are increasingly going south. The last act of piracy was 900 kilometers (600 miles) away from Somalia, so they are on the run, he said.

The international community must focus on the pirates and their financial backers -- rumored to be in Nairobi, Dubai, London, and elsewhere -- so they feel the heat, and we have to trace where the money goes, he said.

The paying of ransoms by ship owners is a dilemma because in trying to save their workers and cargo they pay out large sums of money to the pirates.

I am sure it is an attractive business, if not it will not continue. I compare it to some kind of hedge funds, Ould-Abdallah said.

We have to trace the money trail, these people get money, whatever in cash, whatever through transfer, it is possible to trace the money trail and to go behind people who are disturbing international trade, who are threatening stability in the region, he said.

Ould-Abdallah said the international naval presence should be strengthened and enlarged, and the U.N. Security Council should offer more support to the African Union.

The pirates they have their own networks, through satellite phone, through Internet, and they are known. We know where they come from, we know their backers and Security Council knows it, Ould-Abdallah said.