Netherlands submarine to join Somalia anti-pirate force

image captionThe submarine will join other navies' warships patrolling off Somalia

The Netherlands has agreed to a Nato request to deploy a submarine off the coast of Somalia to combat piracy.

The Dutch ministry of defence said the submarine will join the Nato-led international flotilla off East Africa.

It will be used for reconnaissance in the vast area from the Gulf of Aden deep into the Indian Ocean where Somali pirates have been hijacking commercial vessels for ransom.

The Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.

"The Netherlands will deploy a submarine from the end of September to the end of November," the Dutch ministry of defence said.

In March, Nato extended its Ocean Shield anti-piracy mission until the end of 2012.

The EU has an anti-piracy mission in the same region, Navfor, which is also tasked with protecting World Food Programme ships carrying food aid to Somalia.

Surge in attacks

Pirates have in the past succeeded in collecting multi-million-dollar ransoms and the head of the Navfor says there has been an upsurge in attacks recently after a period of relative calm.

The Kenyan foreign minister estimates pirates received $150m in ransom payments in 2009.

With warships patrolling along the Somali coast, the pirates have started to operate further away and have even staged some attacks across the Indian Ocean, closer to India than Somalia.

Efforts to fight piracy are complicated by the lack of a functioning central government in Somalia and the lack of an international legal system for people accused of piracy.

It is up to individual governments to put suspected pirates on trial if they are captured.

Last week a Dutch court sentenced five Somali men to five years in prison for attacking a Dutch Antilles-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden last year, in the first such case to come to trial in Europe.

Other Somali piracy suspects are being held in France, Spain, Germany and the US.

Kenya, which holds more than 100 alleged pirates, has convicted 18 since 2007.