October 10, 2008

NATO Joining Pirate Patrol — Will Escort Somali Aid Shipments

By Salad Duhul

MOGADISHU, Somalia - NATO joined a growing international force to protect vessels off Somalia's perilous coast Thursday, sending military ships to the treacherous waters where pirates are negotiating the release of an arms-laden tanker.

Pirates have seized more than two dozen ships off Somalia's coast this year but the MV Faina has drawn the most international concern because of its dangerous cargo - 33 tanks and other heavy weapons.

Six U.S. warships have surrounded the boat, and a Russian frigate is expected soon.

NATO defense ministers meeting in Hungary agreed that a seven- ship force would be in the region within weeks.

"There will soon be NATO military vessels off the coast of Somalia, hopefully deterring piracy and escorting food shipments," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said. "That's good news for the people of Somalia and, as it should be, bad news for the pirates."

De Hoop Scheffer said "millions of Somalians risk starvation if" aid is prevented from reaching the country.

NATO said a NATO naval group based in the Mediterranean Sea would sail to the Horn of Africa and stay until at least December.

Momentum has been growing for coordinated international action against the pirate menace after the seizure of the MV Faina. Several European Union countries last week said they would launch an anti- piracy patrol, and Russia announced it would cooperate with the West on fighting the pirates.

The U.N. Security Council this week called on countries to send naval ships and military aircraft, and U.S. warships are being diverted from counterterrorism duties to respond to the sea bandits.

Somalia's government has given foreign powers the freedom to use force against the pirates.

The U.S. Navy said the 20 crew members aboard the MV Faina were living in fear, but a spokesman for the pirates denied that.

Originally published by Salad Duhul Associated Press .

(c) 2008 Commercial Appeal, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.