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EUR: NATO launches new anti-piracy operation off Somalia

Tue Aug 18 04:16:18 EST 2009

LISBON, Aug 17 AFP - NATO has launched operation Ocean Shield to help fight rampant piracy off the Horn of Africa after the alliance's North Atlantic Council approved the mission, it said in a statement.

"No timeframe has been set for this long-term operation, which will last as long as it's deemed necessary," Major Stefano Sbaccanti, a spokesman from the alliance's Joint Command Lisbon, told AFP on Monday.

It takes over from NATO's sea-based operation Allied Protector, launched last year. It has a new mandate to also "assist regional states, upon their request, in developing their own ability to combat piracy," a statement said.

The operation "will contribute to a lasting maritime security solution off the Horn of Africa," NATO said.

NATO's Joint Command Lisbon is in overall command. Day-to-day operations will be controlled out of the alliance's Maritime Component Command Headquarters Northwood in Britain.

British, Greek, Italian, Turkish and US warships are involved in Ocean Shield but "other countries are thinking of coming to reinforce the operation which could evolve at any moment," Sbaccanti said.

The world's naval powers have deployed dozens of warships to the lawless waters off Somalia over the past year to curb attacks by pirates threatening one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.

Pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships last year, a rise of more than 200 per cent from 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau.