EU starts anti-piracy patrol off Somalia
3rd December 2008, 20:34 WST
A European Union flotilla will begin anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia next week, the EU’s foreign policy chief said on Wednesday.The six warships and three maritime reconnaissance aircraft will replace a NATO naval force that has been patrolling the region and escorting cargo ships carrying relief aid to Somalia since the end of October.
Although the NATO ships have successfully delivered nearly 30,000 tonnes of humanitarian supplies to the impoverished nation, they have not been able to stem the upsurge in pirate attacks on foreign shipping in one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.
Foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU warships will arrive on Monday, and the hand-over with the NATO force will take place on December 15.
Officials said France, Greece, Germany and Britain will provide ships for the initial naval contingent, and France and Italy will provide patrol aircraft.
The contingents will be rotated every three months, and at least four vessels will remain on station at all times.
The task force – codenamed Operation Atalanta – will be the EU’s first naval operation.
It will have the same duties as the NATO mission, including escorting cargo vessels, protecting merchant ships and deterring pirate attacks.
“These tasks will be done with very robust rules of engagement,” Solana told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
The ministers agreed on Monday to ask the UN Security Council to clarify the legal issues involved in the anti-piracy effort.
On Wednesday, ministers said they would also consider the possibility of deploying a follow-up anti-piracy mission to assist the EU ships.
“NATO stands ready to consider further requests for the use of alliance naval assets to combat piracy in the region,” the meeting’s communique said.
Under the current UN mandate, the international fleet operating off the Horn of Africa has not been able to board ships seized by the pirates in order to free their hostages.
Besides the NATO ships, 10 other warships from the United States, India, Russia and Malaysia are patrolling the region at present.
Pirates have attacked 32 vessels and hijacked 12 of them since the NATO operation was launched on October 24.
About 50 cargo ships transit daily through the Gulf of Aden, a waterway that links the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.