May 16, 2012 in Nation/World

EU forces hit pirate base from air

Shift in tactics takes out speedboats, fuel
Robyn Dixon Los Angeles Times

With an estimated 300 hostages in the hands of Somali pirates, the first attack on a pirate land base by the European Union’s anti-piracy force Tuesday was a delicate one: In all, several speedboats were destroyed as well as fuel and ammunition stores, alliance officials said.

No lives were lost in the attack on the base north of Haradheere, a major pirate stronghold, and no Somalis were injured, the EU said.

“We believe this action by the EU naval force will further increase the pressure on and disrupt pirates’ efforts to get out to sea to attack merchant shipping and dhows,” said the commander of the naval force Somalia, Rear Adm. Duncan Potts.

Potts added that no European forces landed on Somali soil during the operation, which he said was approved by Somalia’s U.N.-backed transitional federal government.

The attack marks a significant shift in anti-piracy operations and was designed to deny the pirates a haven on land, according to the naval force.

Somali pirates operating from the chaotic, lawless state have seized dozens of ships and hundreds of crew members in recent years, demanding multimillion-dollar ransoms to release vessels. They have attacked ships almost 2,000 miles from the shores of Somalia.

According to a report last year by the Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation, Somali pirates attacked 237 ships in 2011 and hijacked 28. It estimated that Somali piracy cost $7 billion last year, including increased security, fuel and insurance, 80 percent of which was borne by the shipping industry.

The EU anti-piracy operation, established in 2008, involves about 1,500 military personnel, nine ships and five maritime patrol planes, policing an area seven times the size of France off the Horn of Africa. The area including the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and western Indian Ocean includes some of the world’s most important shipping routes.

One of the force’s main roles is to protect vessels carrying World Food Program humanitarian aid.

NATO and other countries also have ships patrolling the area.

The attack, carried out early Tuesday, involved helicopters and maritime aircraft, according to a statement by the naval force.

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