UK & World News
EU Naval Forces Attack Somali Pirate Bases
European Union naval forces have carried out their first raid on pirates based on the Somali mainland.
In what is seen as a significant change in tactics, a single attack helicopter - the nationality of which is not yet known - launched air strikes against targets on the Somali shore overnight on Tuesday.
No casualties have been reported following the raids, along the country's central coastline in the region of Galmudug, but boats and equipment belonging to pirates are said to have been destroyed.
In a statement, the European Union Naval Force (EU-NAVFOR) said: "The focused, precise and proportionate action was conducted from the air and all forces returned safely to EU warships on completion.
"Whilst assessment is on-going, surveillance of the area during the action indicates that no Somalis were injured ashore as a result of EU action."
The attack is the first time that EU Naval forces have attacked pirate bases. To date, attacks have only been at sea and in reaction to threats by pirates.
The area hit has a low population but during a reconnaissance mission, a large number of skiffs - dinghies with large outboard motors - were spotted, suggesting the presence of pirates.
The strikes are the latest attempt to combat pirates in the region, who have seized ships on the Indian Ocean and demanded huge ransoms for their release.
The EU-NAVFOR commander, Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, said: "We believe this action by the EU Naval Force will further increase the pressure on, and disrupt pirates' efforts to get out to sea to attack merchant shipping and dhows.
"The local Somali people and fishermen - many of whom have suffered so much because of piracy in the region - can be reassured that our focus was on known pirate supplies and will remain so in the future."
He added: "The EU Naval Force action against pirate supplies on the shoreline is merely an extension of the disruption actions carried out against pirate ships at sea."
The long coastline of war-ravaged Somalia provides a perfect haven for pirate gangs preying on shipping off the East African coast.
Their reach is vast and they have attacked merchant ships up to 1,750 miles away. The EU has kept between five and 10 warships off the Horn of Africa since December 2008.
Nato has a similar anti-piracy flotilla known as Ocean Shield, and other countries - including the United States, India, China, Russia, and Malaysia - have also dispatched naval vessels to patrol the region.
Last month, the EU adopted a more robust mandate for its naval force, allowing it to mount strikes against pirate targets on the shoreline for the first time.
Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said: "This action against piracy is part of a comprehensive EU approach to the crisis in Somalia, where we support a lasting political solution on land."
Two months ago, speaking to Sky News, Admiral Potts said his job equated to policing the whole of Europe with just 25 police cars.
Ahead of February's Somalia conference in London, he said that EU-NAVFOR has a challenging job but pointed out that the last 12 months have seen a sharp drop in the number of pirate attacks off Somalia.
"I think we have seen a good degree of tactical success over the last six to nine months, and what is indisputable is the number of successful pirating acts in the Indian Ocean is down," Admiral Potts said.
Admiral Potts commands the EU operation from a nerve centre located at the UK Military's Northwood Headquarters in North-West London.
With an annual budget last year of more than 8m euro, the EU-NAVFOR mission is to protect vessels passing through the area, to deter and disrupt pirate operations, and to provide up to date information to ships in the region.
Some 50% of the world's containers pass through the Horn of Africa which is a global economic highway. The area being policed comprises of 3.2 million square miles of ocean.
All EU nations and some non-EU countries contribute to the force either with warships, maritime patrol aircraft or with desk staff.
Their rules of engagement are limited by a UN charter. Although this is sometimes seen as a frustrating tie, the commander believes the operation is working.
"What I am commanding here is a constabulary operation, effectively it is a law enforcement action against a criminal act," he told Sky News.
Commanders believe that the pirates, who are almost all Somali, have shifted their target area over the past few years.
In 2007 they operated largely in a confined area to the south of Yemen. By late 2008 they had 'fanned' out to the south east of Yemen and to the east of Somalia.
Admiral Potts said that by last year, his forces had suppressed the pirates operations south of Yemen and significantly disrupted their movement in the whole region.
In a sign of significant success, he said that between March and December last year there were just three ships pirated compared with 28 ships pirated between January and March 2011.
Although Naval warships in the region acts as a significant deterrent to the pirates, Admiral Potts attributed much of the recent success to preventative measures now taken by merchant ships passing through the area.
Acting on advice from EU-NAVFOR, many shipping companies now authorise the use of Private Armed Security Teams (PAST) on their ships.
All shipping companies are encouraged to adhere to Best Management Practices which include simple techniques.
Many shipping companies now ring their vessels with barbed wire, which is a simple and cheap but very effective deterrent.
Admiral Potts said that the threat of piracy can be minimised but it won't be stopped until the route causes are addressed.
"Piracy is a sophisticated criminal endeavour which will continue until the root causes are dealt with." he said.
According to figures released to Sky News, since the start of the EU-NAVFOR mission in December 2008, a total of 117 suspect pirates have been detained.
Of these, 56 have been convicted and the remainder (61), have been remanded in custody.
Some suspected pirates are not detained and are instead returned to Somalia because it is hard to prove that they were involved in piracy.
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what do you think?
And about bl**dy time!
Windows Live User
what about equality? These woman can handle machine guns as good as men
Not before time. The bases have to be eliminated if you are serious about stopping piracy. The Barbary pirates were a menace until in 1816 a combined British, US and Dutch naval force wiped them out. Let's have more of the same, asap.
Piracy on the high seas ought once again to be a capital offence. Hang 'em from the yard arm!
Absolutely. In international law it is also an act of war, but the EU wants it to be simply a criminal offence - no doubt they have community service or probation in mind as a punishment.
Its the EU that is promoting these attacks on the pirates land bases. I don't see anyone else having a go, go and spout your anti EU drivel elsewhere!
Windows Live User
and we are prevented from commenting on our take of Rebekah and hubby being charged. If it was others charged then her old paper would have had lots to say
Sounds like a scapegoat charge to me.
General Patton would not have waited this long!
Had the west not raped the country and its seas these people might not be so desperate
You should read your history books.
The "pirates" were quite happy fishing for a living until factory fishing fleets from the developed nations fished the area clean. There are two sides to every story.