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Europe

European Navies Upping the Stakes for Somali Pirates

There's been a drop in pirate attacks off the Somali coast since the European Union launched coordinated naval operations in the region. But pirates still abound.

Three German soldiers on a boat

Preventing hijackings has become the mission of Atalanta troops

European Union navies arrested 36 pirates in January. Yet France's Vice-Admiral Gerard Valin said even more vessels and better coordination are needed to deal with the ongoing threat near the Horn of Africa.

Pirates are disciplined and professional, Valin said, and they show no signs of giving up.

"They are operating with more and more skill," France's top military official for the Indian Ocean told AFP in an interview published Wednesday, Feb. 4.

Pirate activity has slowed

Somalia-based gangs hijacked 43 vessels in 2008, holding them for millions of dollars in ransom.

Soldiers escort eight suspected pirates

Somali pirates now face arrest for their actions

"They are paramilitary, they are very professional," Valin said from his joint command ship, the FS Var, which docked in the Saudi port of Damman while he met Saudi officials.

The EU launched a joint anti-piracy operation Atalanta in mid-December of last year. The extra military presence seems to have helped slow pirate activity in the region.

Pirates have attempted 17 hijackings this year and succeeded three times. The most recent hijacking was the seizure of a German gas tanker MV Longchamp, which had 13 crew aboard. The January 29 attack happened despite the ship sailing with some type of an escort.

Arrests adding up

Just two days before the hijacking, nine pirates were arrested when an armed helicopter raced to the rescue of a cargo ship which radioed that it was under threat. The helicopter aimed its weapons at the pirates before they could board the ship.

Valin's troops showed up a short time later to arrest the gang, bringing the total number to 36 pirates arrested in January alone.

Officials believe there are four or five big pirate operations being run out of Somalia. There are believed to be hundreds, if not thousands, of men working as pirates.

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