Tuesday, December 9, 2008

EU navies to tackle Somali pirates

The European Union is stepping up its efforts to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia by sending a task force of ships and planes to the region - the first time in its history that the EU has ever engaged in naval operations. Eight EU members will contribute six ships and three aircraft to the mission, which will be under the command of British Rear Admiral Phillip Jones.

The EU mission comes as Somali pirates continue to plunder ships in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden (the gateway to the Suez Canal and the main shipping route between Asia and Europe). On Monday a Danish ship reported that they successfully repelled a pirate attack 450 miles off the coast of Tanzania, Somalia's southern neighbor. This is the furthest from the Somali coast that pirates are reported to have operated, the oil tanker Sirius Star was snatched 500 miles from Somalia, the previous record.

And the EU is wrestling with another problem - what to do with pirates when they catch them. One EU law says that pirates should be turned over to the nation holding the registry of the ship they attacked to let that country prosecute them. But this can run into another EU law that bars extraditing alleged criminals to countries that still use the death penalty. As a compromise, Germany suggested turning pirates over to Kenya for the time being (since Somalia doesn't really have a functioning government), but in the long-term setting up a special UN court for piracy to deal with them.

The six EU ships will join vessels from the US, Russia, India and South Korea in patrolling the waters and will take over from a task force of four NATO ships (though frankly the EU mission is yet another reason to question the worth of NATO in today's world - if Europe is willing to get together for military missions, than what is the purpose of NATO?). But until Somalia has some kind of functioning government and security forces can go in and take control of port cities like Eyl that now basically rely on piracy for their bread and butter, it's hard to imagine the pirate problem in the Horn of Africa going away anytime soon.
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