French Defense Minister Herve Morin announced that the anti-piracy security operation could begin as soon as next month in the wake of calls from Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed for the international community to combat rising piracy off the lawless nation's waters.
"There is very broad European willingness. Many countries want to take part. Ten have clearly given their accord to take part in such a mission," Morin said Wednesday, Oct. 1, at the meeting in the French seaside resort of Deauville.
"We have given a mandate (to EU top brass) to continue the planning for the launch of this operation in the month of November," he told reporters. "We will see what means, NATO and European, can be added."
Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and possibly Britain would be involved in the task force, Morin said.
"We have to coordinate between the ships that are in the zone and those we are going to send," he said, and added that NATO countries, particularly the United States, had vessels in the area.
Germany has agreed to provide a frigate for the EU naval task force, which will include three frigates, a supply ship and three maritime surveillance ships, Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung said at the meeting.
Germany to send frigate to Somalia
"I think it's necessary to counter pirates effectively," Jung told reporters. "I support a mission that pushes back piracy, secures the seas and ensures free maritime trade."
Piracy is rife and well organized in the region where Somalia's north-eastern tip juts into the Indian Ocean, preying on a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal. An estimated 30 percent of the world's oil passes through the territory. Sixty ships have been seized this year alone and Somali pirates are currently holding 13 vessels captive with more than 200 sailors.
The pirates operate high-powered speedboats and are heavily armed, sometimes holding ships for weeks until they are released for large ransoms paid by governments or owners.
The Somali government was joined in its calls for action by global shipping groups last month which urged the world's naval powers to do more to stop piracy.
Global shipping groups call for action
The groups, including the International Chamber of Shipping, Bimco and oil tanker group Intercargo, said they were "utterly amazed" governments were unable to secure one of the world's most important seaways.
They also warned that continued inaction risked causing a repetition of the crisis in the early 1970s when the Suez Canal was closed and merchant shipping was diverted around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa's southern tip, leading to major consequences for international trade, including higher transport costs and the maintenance of inventories.
Somalia's President Yusaf warned in a speech in the capital Mogadishu this week that the pirates represented a risk to the whole world.
"They (pirates) are imposing an embargo on the Somali people and the international community because they are blocking movement between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, which affects not only Somalia but the whole world," Yusuf told reporters. "I call on the Somali people to fight against the pirates. I also call on the international community to act quickly on what is happening in Somali waters as well as on shore," he added.
US Navy monitor seized arms ship
The pirates who seized a Belize-flagged freighter with its 21-man crew and 33 Soviet-era T-72 battle tanks on board last Thursday say they are under 24-hour surveillance from US ships and helicopters.
"We are prepared for any eventuality," warned pirate spokesman Sugule Ali by satellite telephone from the ship.
"We are sticking to the demand for $20 million. This is not ransom, but a fine for unlawfully transporting weapons on Somali waters," Ali said.
There are 21 Ukrainians, Russians and Latvians in the crew. The ship's captain died of an illness on board, according to Russian media.
The Bahrain-based US Navy Fifth Fleet said several ships and helicopters were in the area to support the destroyer USS Howard as it observed its target, now docked at the Somali port village of Hobyo.
Abdikadir Musa Yusuf, deputy seaports minister for the Somali breakaway region of Puntland, said, "There are negotiations going on between the pirates and the foreign ships."
The Pentagon said it wanted a peaceful resolution and US warships were there to make sure pirates do not make off with its military cargo.
"But at this point, what we are most concerned about is seeing a peaceful solution to this problem," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said, adding that the US Navy was not negotiating with the pirates.
He said the main US concern was "that this cargo does not end up in the hands of anyone who would use it in a way that would be destabilizing to the region."