- NATO - Piracy (maritime) - Somalia
AFP - NATO defence ministers agreed Friday to prolong the military alliance's anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, with at least six countries ready to take part in the new mission.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the ministers had decided to deploy the so-called Standing Naval Maritime Group Two (SNMG 2) for an as-yet undetermined period.
"That will take place in the beginning of July. That means that NATO will continue to play its role in the fight against piracy," he told reporters after chairing two days of his talks.
"There are six nations represented, and it might well be, according to what some ministers mentioned, that other nations might be ready and willing to join," he said at his last ministerial meeting before stepping down next month.
A NATO diplomat said, on condition of anonymity, that Britain, Greece, Italy, Turkey and the United States would take part, and that Canada, Germany and Ukraine might do so as well.
The move comes after NATO ambassadors have agreed to launch a long-term anti-piracy operation dubbed Ocean Shield. Until now, NATO has conducted two short-term missions using warships in the region.
The current mission's mandate ends on June 28.
It is unclear exactly how Ocean Shield will be made up, but the operation will at least initially be carried out by the SNMG 2.
According to a European diplomat, the EU plans to extend its mission in the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia until the end of next year.
Ecoterra International, a green non-governmental group monitoring illegal marine activities in the region, says Somali pirates have carried out 126 attacks so far this year, including 44 successful sea-jackings.
They captured 49 ships in total last year.
At last count 14 ships were still being held by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, together with more than 200 seamen, almost a quarter of them Filipinos.
The world's naval powers have deployed dozens of warships to the region over the past year, in a declared attempt to curb attacks by pirates threatening one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.
Observers say piracy can only be eradicated with measures to end the chaos inside Somalia, where close to two decades of war and lawlessness have made piracy one of the few viable businesses.