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EU fishermen seek protection from pirates

BRUSSELS, Apr 23 – European fishermen who work off the Horn of Africa are asking for an extended protection zone as Somali pirates launch operations further from their bases, an EU official said on Wednesday.

"There are (European) ships that fish in the Indian Ocean and close to Somali waters but I think they have moved away from that area because of the piracy," Cesar Deben, policy director at the EU\’s maritime affairs directorate, told reporters.

"They have asked for an extension of the protection zone," he added.

"The pirates themselves have extended their activities and in fact they are interfering with legal fishing well beyond Somali waters near Kenya and Tanzania."

The European Union launched its first-ever naval operation last December with warships and surveillance planes patrolling the pirate-infested seas in the Gulf of Aden.

The EU vessels are already facing the daunting task of covering an area of around one million square kilometres, while NATO and other warships are also operating in the area.

The pirates have begun using larger ships which allow them to launch attacks up to 200 miles (320 kilometres) from their coast, an expert said.

Some 50 tuna fishing boats from EU nations, mainly Spain, are still operating in the Indian Ocean region.

The threats are being faced especially by bluefin tuna fishermen off the Seychelles and northeast of Madagascar.

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The subject will be discussed, at Spain\’s request, at a meeting of EU fisheries ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday.

"We will see what can be done to assure security and protection to fishermen in those waters," said EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, as he presented a new consultation paper on European fisheries.

"We have no fishing accords with Somalia or its neighbours," he stressed.

Earlier Wednesday the EU urged merchant ships planning to cross piracy-hit waters off Somalia to sign up to a register to enable the EU naval taskforce to track their voyage.

Deben strongly denied reports that European fishing boats were still operating off the Somali coast, dismissing them as "facile and stupid rumours".

"From satellite readings we have found that there was no European ship in Somali waters," he told reporters in Brussels.

"No one has given me any name of any ship," doing so, he asserted.

"There may be Europeans fishing near the Horn of Africa but this is in shared waters."

The activities of the Somali pirates will also be discussed in Brussels on Thursday at an international donors meeting.

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