DJIBOUTI (AFP) –The defense ministers of France and Spain on Sunday launched a European Union military operation to combat piracy off the Somali coast.
“This is the inception of the operation which will be formalized on November 10” at a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels, French Defence Minister Herve Morin told reporters.
Accompanied by his Spanish counterpart Carme Chacon, he was speaking in Djibouti, where the pair were on a brief visit to assess multinational efforts to secure the strategic Somali waters and review their anti-piracy arsenal.
Both French and Spanish ships were among the at least 77 vessels attacked for ransom by Somali pirates since the start of the year.
What French President Nicolas Sarkozy has described as a “criminal industry” has threatened to disrupt world trade with relentless attacks in the Gulf of Aden, through which 30 percent of the world’s oil transits.
The high-profile case of the September capture by pirates of a Ukrainian cargo loaded with weapons apparently destined for southern Sudan has contributed in spurring the international community into action.
France, which has a major military base in neighboring Djibouti, is so far the only country to have used its firepower against the pirates in April and September operations following hostage-takings.
Spain has pledged two ships and one surveillance aircraft to the new operation, while France has opened its base to the Spanish forces for logistical support.
Morin said Britain would take the command of the joint force and added that other contributions from Greece, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden were awaiting final confirmation.
NATO warships recently arrived in the region in a bid to secure the maritime delivery of food aid to the civilian population of Somalia, where a deadly civil conflict continues to rage.
Experts have warned however that sending foreign warships to such a vast area would hardly sound the death knell of Somali piracy, which has flourished in recent months.
Pirates argue that their attacks are in retaliation for the plundering of their water resources by foreign fishing navies and the dumping of toxic waste in their waters.
They often cite France and Spain as among the worst offenders on the issue of illegal fishing.