NATO agrees on anti-piracy force


Brussels : NATO defence ministers have agreed to send a force of up to 10 warships to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia, Britain’s defence minister said Friday.

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NATO currently has five ships fighting piracy in the region, but that mission is set to finish June 28.

“We have decided to make the Standing NATO Maritime Group available for counter-piracy, to complement the many assets doing this job off the Horn of Africa,” Bob Ainsworth told journalists at a meeting with NATO counterparts in Brussels.

The alliance has agreed in principle to follow the current mission up with a longer-term mission, but on Thursday afternoon ministers hit deadlock over the question of whether they should divert the ships from the standing group – usually based in the Mediterranean – or put together a new force.

The ministers returned to the question Thursday evening.

The current mission has been dogged by legal difficulties: each warship acts according to its national legislation, and some legal systems have no provisions for dealing with pirates apprehended in international waters.

That led to a situation on April 18 in which three NATO warships and two helicopters caught seven pirates after an all-night chase, but then had to release them “according to national regulations”.

The European Union, which also has a flotilla in the area, has solved the problem by agreeing upon a prisoner-transfer deal with Kenya. On Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that “NATO is working along the same lines”.

Kenya, the Seychelles and two other countries in the region are potential partners, NATO officials said.