EU launches anti-piracy mission off Somalia coast

December 9th, 2008 - 2:25 am ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Dec 9 (Xinhua) The European Union (EU) Monday formally launched its anti-piracy mission off the Somalia coast, the foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc said here in a statement. “The Council (of foreign ministers) adopted today (Monday) the decision on the launch of the EU military operation to contribute to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast,” the statement said.

“The operation commander (Britian’s Vice Admiral Philip Jones) was authorised by the Council to deploy forces and start the mission. The operation is thus launched on Dec 8, 2008,” it said.

Six EU warships and three maritime reconnaissance aircraft will be deployed in the Gulf of Aden to escort UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) food shipments to Somalia and to protect merchant ships cruising off the Somalia coast.

The mission codenamed “Operation Atalanta” will succeed a NATO anti-piracy operation that involved four warships in the Gulf.

“The rules of engagement are very robust with the possibility of using all means, including force,” EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana told reporters.

The NATO mission has successfully guarded WFP food shipments to Somalia since its launch on Oct 24, delivering about 30,000 tonnes of food. But piracy remained rampant despite the presence of NATO ships and a dozen more from other countries such as Denmark, France, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US.

Since Oct 24, pirates attacked 33 vessels and captured 12 off the coast of Somalia. Every day, over 50 merchant vessels sail through the Gulf of Aden, which is a key trade route linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.

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