Krakow: Nato's new anti-piracy flotilla will leave next month bound for the Horn of Africa where it will join an EU task force already patrolling the region, Germany's defence minister said yesterday.
Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said Germany will contribute a frigate and a tanker to the six-vessel naval squadron. They will join the EU task force, code-named 'Operation Atalanta', which is the first naval action undertaken by the bloc.
Other nations - including the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Norway, Denmark and the US - also have offered their warships to the anti-piracy force known as the Standing Nato Maritime Group I.
"Our ships ... will be brought under the Atalanta mandate so that we can contribute to fighting piracy," Jung said on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of Nato defence ministers in Krakow. He said the Nato ships would set sail in March.
Atalanta anti-piracy patrols were inaugurated in December by the European Union. The EU ships will remain off Somalia's lawless coasts until the end of 2009.
A number of warships from other countries, including China, Russia and India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the US, have all joined the anti-piracy campaign.
In November, Nato dispatched a four-ship squadron to the Gulf of Aden for six weeks and Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Thursday the alliance would mount a follow-up anti-piracy operation soon.
"We are seeing the end of the monsoon season, so I would not be astonished to see piracy go up again," de Hoop Scheffer said.
Some vessels of the new Nato flotilla will make port calls in Asia and Australia during the deployment, which will end in July. Germany already has one ship serving in Operation Atalanta, the frigate Rheinland-Pfalz.
In March, it will be joined by the frigate Emden and the tanker Spessart.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and nearly half the population is dependent on aid.
This is provided mainly by the United Nations World Food Programme, whose chartered ships had repeatedly come under pirate attack before the original Nato flotilla arrived in November.
The UN Security Council has authorised countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters, with advance notice, and use "all necessary means" to stop piracy and armed robbery at sea.
The pirates are well-funded, well-organised and have easy access to heavy weapons in a country that has been in tatters for nearly two decades.
To date, pirates have raked in tens of millions in ransom and attacked and seized dozens of vessels carrying everything from palm oil and chemicals to luxury yachts.
High-profile seizures include a Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship laden with tanks, both recently released.