11/20/2008, 00.00
ASIA
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European Union counteroffensive against piracy

Operation ‘Atalanta’ begins on 8 December. European nations are set to fight piracy, but Noel Choong says “steps should have been taken years ago;” now the “situation is already out of control.”
Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Somali pirates want US$ 25 million to release the MV Sirius Star and its crew, a report said today. But the European Union has decided to launch an operation to prevent further acts of piracy in the high seas.

Five days after the Saudi super-tanker was seized off the coast of Kenya, Somali raiders demanded a $US 25 million ransom setting a 10-day deadline, a spokesman for the pirates said.

"The Saudis have ten days to comply, otherwise we will take action that could be disastrous," he added.

Meanwhile the pirates’ sorties continue along the coast of Somalia. Two merchant ships, one from Hong Kong, the other from Greece, and a Thai fishing trawler, are the  bandits’ latest victims.

But following the destruction of a suspected Somali pirate vessel in the Gulf of Aden by an Indian navy warship, hope and a spirit of international cooperation are growing.

The European Union is set to launch its own naval operation, starting 8 December.

“We proposed to our European partners to take up this mission,” said French Defence Minister Hervé Morin, which was decided on and organised in less than three months.

Code-named ‘Atalanta’ the operation will involve seven warships backed by reconnaissance aircraft. Its headquarters will be at Northwood, south of London.

Ships, sailors and logistical support will come from France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Spain. Portugal, Sweden and non-EU member Norway will also contribute.

The move comes after Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed made an appeal to the international community to intervene.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, 63 of the 199 episodes of piracy recorded worldwide in the first nine months of this year occurred in the waters off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.

“These steps should have been taken years ago,” said Noel Choong, head of the piracy reporting centre at the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Now the “situation is already out of control.”

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