Somalia pirates: EU approves attacks on land bases

A Somali pirate gazing at the captured MV Filitsa, 7 January 2010 The EU says fighting piracy is a priority of the mission in the Horn of Africa

The European Union has agreed to expand its mission against Somali pirates by allowing military forces to attack land targets as well as those at sea.

In a two-year extension of its mission, EU defence ministers agreed warships could target boats and fuel dumps.

The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner says the move is a significant step-up in operations, but one that also risks escalation.

Up to 10 EU naval ships are currently on patrol off the Horn of Africa.

They have policed shipping routes and protected humanitarian aid since 2008. The extension means they will stay until at least December 2014.

An EU official said the new mandate would allow warships or helicopters to fire at fuel barrels, boats, trucks or other equipment on beaches, according to Agence France-Presse.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters: "The EU plan is to allow attacks on land installations when ships are assaulted at sea," adding that "much care" would be taken to avoid civilian deaths.

Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, the operation commander for the EU Naval Force in Somalia, said it had already made considerable progress targeting the pirates at sea.

"If you look at last year, 30 ships and up to 700 hostages were held - today that is eight [ships] and around 200 [hostages]," he told the BBC's 5Live.

"At sea we've had an effect on the pirates' ability to operate but we haven't changed the strategic conditions, which is why we want to target every stage of their operations."

'Robust action'

A two-decade war has wrecked Somalia, leaving it without a proper government.


Taking the fight against Somali piracy to bases on land is a major step-up for EU operations. Until now, pirates have been able to operate from coastal bases in towns like Eyl, Haradhere and Hobyo with relative impunity, returning from lengthy raids at sea to enjoy the spoils back home, though many drown or return empty-handed.

Now, it seems, the paraphernalia of piracy will all become fair game, hitting the pirates where it hurts and trying to disrupt what an EU admiral described to me as "the pirates' business model".

But this new, aggressive policy comes with significant risks. Pirates who see their bases destroyed are likely to protest they were innocent fishermen. It's also possible that, over time, innocent Somali fishermen really will be hurt.

Either way, its likely to enrage the pirates who may be tempted to take out their frustration on the hapless merchant sailors they regularly kidnap for ransom.

The transitional government only controls the capital Mogadishu, while al-Shabab militants, who recently joined with al-Qaeda, hold large swathes of territory.

The EU says the main tasks of the mission are the protection of vessels of the World Food Programme delivering food aid to displaced people in Somalia, and the fight against piracy off the Somali coast.

"Today's important decision extends [Operation] Atalanta's mandate for two more years and allows it to take more robust action on the Somali coast," the EU's foreign policy head Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

The statement said the EU would be working with Somalia's transitional federal government and other Somali organisations to support their fight against piracy from the coastal area.

Brussels also said the Somali government had told the UN secretary general that it accepted its new offer of collaboration.

The statement also said "a budget of 14.9m euros (£12.4m; $19.7m) is provided for the common costs of the prolonged mandate".

In February world leaders agreed to boost support for measures to fight piracy, terrorism and political instability in Somalia, at a conference held in London.

The summit agreed a seven-point plan promising more humanitarian aid, support for African Union peacekeepers and better international co-ordination.

On Wednesday British woman Judith Tebbutt was freed by Somali pirates after being held hostage for more than six months.

The Times newspaper claims her family paid a ransom of $1.3m (£800,000), which was dropped from an aircraft.

Somalia pirate attacks map

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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    2 Minutes ago

    @firemensaction (4) - the Royal Navy is actually one of only 3 Blue Water navies, the other two being France and the USA. We may not have an air craft carrier at the moment, but with the exception of France we have the best navy in Europe.

    France has a better navy hold our heads in shame..........

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Its literally criminal what has happened to the navy its been turned into a coast guard.All we ever here is how the aircraft carriers are so expensive and how the last lot are to blame.This coming from a govt who want to spend 32bn quid on a train! As for this, just declare a no sail zone and then shoot anything that aint got permission to be in it.Job done they will soon get the message.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Why bother with the UN if either or both the US and EU decide who should be on the receiving end of firepower.
    The Americans are hated by many in the world because they inflict their will with or without UN authorisation.
    Do we really want a 7-27 (July 27th) because some political scum in Europe have ignored World level agreed protocols?
    Great, let's hit and stop pirates, but after UN approval.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    One more thing...have we ever considered that our approach to piracy is a bit of a major failure?
    First we're told that ships shouldn't defend themselves--obviously effective deterrance.
    Second, if captured we either release the pirates or detain them for a few years in relatively comfortable prisons with better food and medical care than they would receive in Somalia--sounds like a good deal

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    i'm sorry but this is an issue for national governments not the EU, yet again is meddling in national affairs, now defence, if the UK wanted to attack ground forces, it should be able, we don't need permission from the over bearing EU. The EU is trying to become its own sovereign nation by meddling in nations foreign and defence affairs. A long shout for the so called EU of trade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The EU doesn't have a navy. Its a membership based treaty organisation. If the UK decides to attack a land target its for the UK to decide and the EU has no say whatsoever in the decision. The BBC needs to learn this and stop reporting as if the EU were a nation or a state.....cos it ain't. Accuracy is everything in good reporting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    "Britain could be a player in this....if we had a navy left of course.
    See what CUTS do to a nation??"

    @firemensaction (4) - the Royal Navy is actually one of only 3 Blue Water navies, the other two being France and the USA. We may not have an air craft carrier at the moment, but with the exception of France we have the best navy in Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Good News. We already have warships patrolling this area, but their hands have been tied. They have to wait for the boats to attack and can't chase them back to their bases. Perhaps we can get rid of this menace once and for all. Well done to the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    6.Simonm if this was the fault of foreign fisheries, why is this level of piracy an (almost) uniquely Somali problem? Are somali waters the only place these companies fish?

    there is always a lefty contrarion like you there to put up barriers in the way of action. most frustrating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I hope the EU let the naval professionals get on with the job and don't tie them down with red tape because judging from the rapid extension of the range of these pirate attacks I'd wager one or more of the larger countries in the region are using the pirates to conduct a proxy war against us. Historically, it wouldn't be the first time this has happened either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    So what will the EU do? Nothing it will be us again with our navy, what is left of it.

    Years too late, far too much vacillating, cowardly need to have the lousy EU permission, not just get on with it.

    Doubtless any action will be far too 'careful'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    About time. Seriously, the fact that pirates have been able to rob and kidnap vessels and crews for the past many years and then be untouchable on their home turf is one of the most bewildering courses of actions in dealing with piracy (probably in world history)--we ought to be ashamed it's taken so long.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    But maybe we should not have stolen all of their fish/ravaged their main food source in the first place so they didn't have to turn to violence for a source of food :/
    Not that I'm for piracy of course.. I just think food aid, agricultural education and stricter fishing laws would be a better solution

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    If there was oil in Somalia this would have been sorted years ago. No Oil....? No can do... sorry, not our problem. That is the philosophy of the EU/USA. And we all vote for these vote grabbing planks

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Has the EU got an army, air and naval forces?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The main reason that nothing gets done about there pirates is because of their Human Rights.

    If another country captures them then they can't hand them to the Somalian Government because they might be tortured.

    So the alternative is that the country that captures them gets lumbered with them, which the don't wont.

    Therefore the pirates are nearly always released. Good eh ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Considering this all started when the international mega fishing boats strip mined the local fish leaving nothing for the boat owners to do. Apart from piracy which was then taken over by thugs and gangs, which then left the Somali waters too dangerous for the mega fishing boats... I wonder whose going to be allowed to catch the fish now its maybe a bit safer?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    @4 We are a part of this, we're in the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Britain could be a player in this....if we had a navy left of course.
    See what CUTS do to a nation??

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Hurrah! About time too. We have sat around far too long.


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