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EU gears for naval action vs pirates off Somalia--Sarkozy

First Posted 12:58:00 09/23/2008

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MANILA, Philippines -- The European Union, under the leadership of France, is preparing for naval action against pirates off Somalia who have been hijacking ships and crewmen for ransom, according to a transcript of an interview with French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent by the French Embassy.

In a copy sent to INQUIRER.net, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "At France and
Spain's initiative, European Union foreign ministers decided to set up a maritime coordination unit to prevent acts of piracy and launched the preparation of a naval operation."

Since September 17, a French naval vessel has begun escorting European ships passing through the Gulf of Aden.

Sarkozy said that as most of the hostage-taking operations have taken place on the high seas outside Somali waters, Somali forces could not take on these pirates. He said that French naval and air force capabilities would be needed to effectively respond to the piracy.

"Obviously we need to do two things: establish a form of marine police force -- the whole international community has to make ships available, perhaps not to escort the convoys, but in any case to make the area safe," he said.

Sarkozy is also calling for the punishment of the pirates.

"I very much want, in addition to this preventive action, there to be punitive action. You won't mind me not being specific about the objectives," he added.

On September 15, France successfully rescued two French nationals kidnapped by Somali pirates and about to be taken to Eyl, where all the other hijacked ships had been docked.

"This operation, I'm telling you so that France's message is clearly heard, is a warning to all those who engage in this criminal activity. France can't allow crime to pay," Sarkozy said.

Noting this and another successful French operation in November 2007, when it escorted World Food Programme ships delivering humanitarian aid to Somalia, Sarkozy said that on its own, France could not take on the pirates and thus appealed for international action.

"On her own, France can't make a crucial difference throughout the area where the piracy is growing. This is why I appeal for the mobilization of the international community to help ensure the safety of the maritime traffic and protect people in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coasts," he said.

"The number of acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast has literally exploded since the beginning of 2008?The world can't tolerate this," he added.

Of the hijacked ships, eight has 97 Filipino seafarers, including one who died during the takeover of the ship.

"As I speak to you, pirates are holding 150 people of all nationalities and at least 15 boats in Somalia," he said in the interview.

Sarkozy said the 48,000 ships that pass through the Gulf of Aden every year were "all potential targets for these pirates who are striking further and further away from the coast."

Apart from this naval action, France has also asked the United Nations' response to this problem.

The increased piracy in the region was not only a problem of ship owners, but also of the Philippines, the world's biggest supplier of seafarers. At any given time, there is an estimated 250,000 Filipino seafarers at sea.

Somalia is a failed state with no effective government for some 20 years.

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