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5th Mar 2024

EU to pool anti-pirate efforts off Somalia

EU foreign ministers on Monday (15 September) agreed to set up a special unit aimed to protect shipping from pirates off the Somali coast, as the number of piracy-related incidents in the area has been increasing lately.

The "coordination unit" will be based in Brussels and have "the task of supporting the surveillance and protection activities carried out by some member states off the Somali coast."

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The unit should be established "in the next few days," the ministers said. They also agreed to plan a possible full-fledged EU naval mission to the waters off Somalia, if needed.

The move follows an increasing number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

According to figures from the International Maritime Bureau, maritime piracy acts committed against fishing boats or ships increased by 10 percent in 2007, French daily Le Figaro reports.

Additionally, "the resources of piracy have developed horrendously," said French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, referring to increasingly mobile and hi-tech pirate operations.

"We are responding to a call from the UN Security Council which called for international protection," he added.

French and Spanish ships have been regularly targeted, and two French nationals who had been held hostage by Somali pirates for two weeks have just been freed by the French army, the Elysee presidential palace announced early on Tuesday (16 September).

Pirate attacks on ships bringing food aid and supplies by sea have also complicated the delivery of humanitarian relief. French, Danish and Dutch ships have participated in the escorts of vessels carrying food aid into Somalia for the United Nations since November.

Consequently, the EU also "deplores the continuing deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Somalia," and has expressed concern at "the difficulties in reaching the civilian population and at the security conditions" for humanitarian groups operating in the region.

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