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. NATO warships ready to tackle piracy off Somalia

HMS Cumberland (frigate F85, United Kingdom) and TCG Gokova (frigate G496, Turkey) transit the Suez canal enroute the Indian Ocean. The ships are part of NATO's Standing Naval Group 2, the NATO Force currently tasked to conduct both anti-piracy duties and visit NATO partner nations in the Gulf region. (NATO photo by PO Luigi Cotrufo, ITN)
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Oct 24, 2008
NATO warships are in place off the Somali coast to tackle rampant piracy in the waters, and are ready to escort UN aid vessels under threat, a spokesman for the alliance's naval command said Friday.

"The boats are in the area. They have started their deterrent role," a spokesman at NATO's naval command in Naples, Italy said by telephone, adding that the three vessels "would escort UN ships on request".

The ships -- an Italian destroyer and British and Greek frigates which form NATO's operation Allied Provider -- "may use force" under their rules of engagement and in line with international law, a statement said.

They will help escort UN World Food Programme (WFP) food shipments, whose cargo is a tempting target for pirates, until the European Union can launch its own operation, probably in December.

The WFP ships 30,000-35,000 tonnes of aid into Somalia each month.

On Thursday, a maritime watchdog said that Somali pirates were now responsible for nearly a third of all reported attacks on ships, often taking hostages and using high levels of violence.

The International Maritime Bureau said 63 of the 199 piracy incidents recorded worldwide in the first nine months of this year occurred in the waters off war-ravaged Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.

The figure is almost double that of the same period last year.

Also Thursday, the French navy arrested nine suspected pirates and handed them over to authorities in the breakaway Somali region of Puntland.

French marines in the Gulf of Aden arrested the men when their patrol intercepted two boats on Wednesday in international waters about 100 nautical miles (185 kilometres) off the Somali coast.

They found small arms and anti-tank weapons and equipment used to board ships on the vessels, said a statement from the French military in Paris.

NATO's top commander, US General John Craddock, said the operation is proof of the military alliance's ability to rapidly react to crises around the globe.

It "signifies NATO's continued relevance and willingness to 'step in' and 'step up' to threats of all descriptions -- in this case the persistent threat of piracy," he said in a statement from his headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

Piracy is rife and well organised in the region where Somalia's northeastern tip juts into the Indian Ocean, preying on a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which an estimated 30 percent of the world's oil transits.

The pirates operate high-powered speedboats and are heavily armed, sometimes holding ships for weeks until they are released for large ransoms paid by governments or owners.

On October 9, the EU announced that its mission -- with ships from Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and possibly Britain -- would be run from a headquarters at Northwood, north of London.

Russia and India have also sent ships to the area on anti-piracy duties.

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French navy arrests suspected Somali pirates
Mogadishu (AFP) Oct 23, 2008
The French navy has arrested nine suspected pirates and handed them over to authorities in the breakaway Somali region of Puntland, French officials said Thursday.

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