Pirates operating off Somalia are being controlled by crime syndicates including foreigners lured by the multi-million-dollar ransoms, Interpol and other officials said on Wednesday.
The pirates have also acquired sophisticated weapons and tracking devices allowing them to extend their reach, they added.
"It is organised crime," said Jean-Michel Louboutin, executive director of police services at Interpol, the France-based global police organisation.
"Certainly, yes," he told AFP when asked if people from outside Somalia were involved in the racket.
The presence of an international armada to police the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, off Somalia, is not enough to solve the problem, which also has policing, social and economic dimensions, Louboutin and other officials said.
They were speaking on the sidelines of Interpol's 78th general assembly, which ends in Singapore on Thursday. Mick Palmer, Australia's inspector of transport security, said there was "clear evidence" of the increasing sophistication of the pirates, who hijack ships and take hostages for ransom.
"Their weaponry continues to get more sophisticated, their attacks are taking place farther and farther out to sea... As far as 1,200 nautical miles offshore," Palmer told reporters.
"So they are getting some quite sophisticated assistance in locating big trading ships," he said, noting their ability to track down the vessels which, despite their size, look like tiny dots in the vast ocean.