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NATO Maritime Group to Combat Pirates off Somalia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BUDAPEST, Hungary, Oct. 9, 2008 – NATO will send its Standing Naval Maritime Group to the waters off Somalia, a spokesman for the alliance said today.

James Appathurai told reporters at a news conference that the decision came out of the defense ministerial conference under way here. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is meeting with his NATO counterparts.

Piracy off Somalia’s coast has become an increasing concern, highlighted by the recent taking of the Ukrainian cargo vessel Faina. The ship is carrying tanks and other military supplies. The pirates, who operate from small boats launched from the beach, also have endangered food shipments to the country. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said 3 million Somalis are in danger of not receiving the supplies they need via the World Food Program.

“The United Nations asked for NATO’s help to address this problem,” Appathurai said. “Today, the ministers agreed that NATO should play a role. NATO will have its Standing Naval Maritime Group, which is composed of seven ships, in the region within two weeks.”

The NATO force will ensure World Food Program ships have the escort they need to deliver their essential food supplies and patrol the waters around Somalia to help to stop acts of piracy.

Well in excess of 40 percent of Somalis are dependent on food aid delivered by World Food Program ships, Appathurai said, and the increased danger of piracy requires that the aid ships have escorts. A Canadian warship is performing that mission now.

The NATO ships will work with all allies who have ships in the area now, the NATO spokesman said. The U.S. Navy has ships in the region.

“There are still important details to work out, but the bottom line is there will soon be NATO military vessels off the coast of Somalia deterring piracy and escorting food shipments,” Appathurai said. “That is good news for the Somalis, and good news for international shipping.”

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