BRUSSELS, October 15 – NATO warships were steaming through the Suez Canal Wednesday en-route to Somalia to help combat piracy off the largely lawless African country’s coast, an alliance spokesman said.,
"Seven ships from six NATO navies … are transiting the Suez Canal today on their way to conduct both anti-piracy duties and to visit NATO partner nations in the Gulf region," spokesman James Appathurai said.
The ships — from Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy, Turkey and the United States — include four frigates, two destroyers and a supply ship, and most are expected to begin anti-piracy duties within two weeks, he said.
Details of the mission are still being finalised, but Appathurai said the ships and their crews "will have the rules of engagement they need to engage in the operations that they have been assigned".
Captured pirates will be dealt with under the rules of the nation that each ship involved belongs to, he explained.
The vessels will also help escort UN World Food Programme (WFP) food shipments, until the European Union can set its own operation afoot, probably in December.
The WFP ships 30,000-35,000 tonnes of aid into Somalia each month. Its vessels are currently under Canadian escort, but that service is due to come to an end on October 20.
At least 32 foreign ships have been attacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden this year, more than twice the figure for all of 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Piracy is rife and well organised in the region where Somalia’s northeastern tip juts into the Indian Ocean, preying on a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which an estimated 30 percent of the world’s oil transits.
The pirates operate high-powered speedboats and are heavily armed, sometimes holding ships for weeks until they are released for large ransoms paid by governments or owners.
On Thursday, the EU announced that its mission — to involve ships from Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and possibly Britain — would be run from the British armed forces headquarters at Northwood, north of London.
Vice-Admiral Philip Jones was named as its commander.