Tuesday, April 28, 2009

EU Planes Seen as Crucial by Imperialists Against Somali Piracy

Planes seen as crucial against Somali piracy

Tue Apr 28, 2009 3:41pm GMT
By Jonathan Saul

LONDON (Reuters) - More spotter planes are urgently needed by the European Union's naval force to combat Somali pirates operating off the horn of Africa country's coast, senior naval officers said on Tuesday.

Somali pirates have made millions of dollars in ransoms hijacking commercial vessels in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, despite patrols by foreign navies off the Somali coast, disrupting aid supplies and trade routes.

The EU launched its naval operation in December with at least 12 of the 27-member states involved with four to eight warships deployed in the region.

But the force currently has one permanent aircraft available for the mission with another plane seconded for now.

"The shortage for us is actually not in warships but in maritime patrol aircraft," said Richard Farrington, chief of staff for the EU's "Operation Atalanta", which is headquartered in England.

"This is a really critical area for us and we need more," Farrington told Reuters in an interview.

The lack of planes was critical in the Somali basin area.

"It does constrain us," he said on the sidelines of a piracy conference in London.

"The EU operation could bring better results if more aircraft were sent ... European aircraft with long range, useful in detecting (pirate) motherships that can then be inspected by special forces teams," Greek Commodore Antonios Papaioannou, a former commander of the EU force, told Reuters in a separate interview in Athens on Tuesday


The London-based International Maritime Bureau has said piracy incidents nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2009, almost entirely due to Somalia and there were 18 attacks off its coast in March alone.

"We haven't solved the problem, but we've made the pirates' operations more difficult," Papaioannou said, noting that the EU mission could contain but not eradicate piracy as long as law and order were not restored in Somalia.

Papaioannou said there were between 800 and 2,000 pirates, mostly aged between 16 and 25.

Unemployed young men with no work, money or prestige within their tribal groups have been attracted to piracy, gaining wealth and status among their peers.

Farrington, a captain in Britain's Royal Navy, said the forces were dealing with an invisible enemy.

"He is operating in a completely lawless society," Farrington said. "He does not wear a black patch on his eye, he does not carry a parrot: he is extremely hard to find."

Farrington said with resources he would aim to carry out a patrol every day using aircraft both in the Somali basin and the Gulf of Aden, without giving further details.

Currently naval forces from more than a dozen countries, including Russia, China and the United States, are trying to tackle piracy off Somalia's coast.

Farrington rejected some analysts' views that a lack of coordination between the naval forces was hampering the effectiveness of tackling the seaborne gangs.

"Maritime forces are naturally able to coordinate with each other -- it's a fact," he said.

Earlier this week an Italian cruise ship used guns and a fire hose to beat off an attack by pirates.

Farrington said the use of armed security guards on merchant vessels was a concern.

"As soon as you start firing back at them you do run a risk of escalation and retaliation which I think you need to take quite seriously," he said. "You should leave military action to the military."

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