NATO warships returning to anti-piracy mission off Somalia

April 30, 2009 10:57 am 

BRUSSELS, April 30 — Four NATO warships, which have been ordered to cancel planned port visits, are returning to the seas off Somalia to resume their anti-piracy operations, said the alliance on Wednesday.

The NATO fleet will resume operations on Friday and will stay until June 28.

"The ships have finished the port visit (in Karachi, Pakistan) and will be back on station on May 1 and begin their exercise again," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters.

According to the original plan, the ships, which broke off last week from their anti-piracy mission and headed for Karachi, would have visited Singapore and Australia's Perth, and would not return to anti-piracy operations until the second half of June.

The NATO member states on Wednesday held extensive discussions on "how to take forward the anti-piracy mission beyond what is taking place right now," said Appathurai.

He said an assessment of NATO's military shows that there is a growing scale of challenge in the region both in terms of the number of attacks by pirates and in terms of geographic expansion of piracy activities deep into the Indian Ocean across the coast of Tanzania.

"Reflecting the fact that this problem is getting worse, NATO is now … looking to strengthen the mandate and the rules of engagement of the forces we have deployed on anti-piracy missions, " said Appathurai.

He said NATO's military has been tasked to quickly define the strengthened mandate and new rules of engagement.

NATO allies are also looking at the possibility of a long-term role on anti-piracy, including the possible deployment of a larger force, he said.

NATO allies have also agreed to look for a solution to the detention of captured piracy suspects, said the spokesman.

Under the current rules of engagement, the national laws of the specific ship involved in the detention apply, resulting in situations where captured piracy suspects have to be freed.

The current practice is no longer sufficient given the worsening situation and the allies should address this problem as quickly as possible, said Appathurai last week.

A NATO official said the alliance may contact the African Union for arrangements.

"There is a shared view amongst allies — a consensus — that NATO should look into, in essence, what to do with pirates once they have been captured. That includes looking at making contacts with regional actors to see if there is the possibility of entering into arrangements with them for detention of captured pirates," said the official on condition on anominity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

NATO is also looking at a possible UN role in the detention of piracy suspects. "A UN role in dealing with detained pirates is also something which allies considered to be worth exploring," said the official.

The four ships currently involved in the anti-piracy mission belong to Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Two German ships, which initially were part of the NATO fleet, broke off and joined the European Union (EU) anti-piracy mission "Atalanta."

The current NATO operations, which began on March 24, 2009, followed its first anti-piracy mission off Somalia in October- December 2008. (PNA/Xinhua) ALM/ebp

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