EU to deploy anti-piracy fleet off Somalia coast

October 1st, 2008 - 8:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Deauville (France), Oct 1 (DPA) The European Union (EU) will soon deploy a warship fleet tasked with defending commercial vessels from attacks by pirates off the Somali coast, officials said Wednesday.The move follows reports that pirates took control of a Kenya-bound cargo ship carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks, armoured personnel carriers and munitions and held 20-member crew hostage.

Last week’s seizure was only the latest in a growing list of attacks by pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden.

Plans for a European maritime convoy operation were being discussed by EU defence ministers meeting in Deauville, France.

“(Piracy) has increased to such an extent that an EU mission has become necessary,” said German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung.

“This is about security at sea and free maritime trade,” Jung added.

Diplomats said the EU fleet would consist of three warships, one supply ship and three maritime surveillance aircraft.

“We have to be able to do something even if we know that the stretch of sea involved is extremely vast and fighting pirates is not easy,” said French Defence Minister Herve Morin, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

Germany has said it is ready to supply one frigate. France already has a frigate in place while Spain is operating a surveillance aircraft in the region.

The EU has already set up a cell in Brussels tasked with coordinating searches and the deployment of naval resources.

The EU fleet could become operational as early as December, sources from the French presidency said.

Its objective would be to escort convoys of European fishing, merchant and cruise vessels.

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