Six warships will deploy early to the waters off the Horn of Africa to combat piracy amid growing alarm over attacks on international shipping, European Union officials said Monday.
The six warships will arrive on Dec. 15 – five days ahead of schedule – to replace the four-vessel NATO flotilla conducting anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast The early deployment is a sign of the urgency in protecting one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, said Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for the bloc’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
"It will be an important contribution to addressing one of the most challenging threats to maritime trade, and particularly to the people of Somalia who have had their humanitarian support hampered by acts of piracy," Gallach said.
European Union foreign ministers will announce the change at a meeting later Monday.
The EU warships and three maritime reconnaissance aircraft will patrol the Gulf of Aden and escort cargo ships carrying relief aid through pirate-infested waters to Somalia, as the NATO vessels have done since the end of October.
Officials said the number of EU warships could be increased in the future if the need arises. So far, Britain, France, Greece, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands have agreed to contribute naval units to the task force.