'Robust Mandate' EU Authorized to Sink Pirate Ships

According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, the European Union's anti-pirate mission off the coast of Somalia will be allowed to sink pirate ships should the need arise. Still, some say more drastic action is necessary.

Those involved in the European Union's anti-pirate operation "Atalanta" have said that the mission would have a "robust" mandate. Just what that means, though, has thus far remained classified. But according to information obtained by SPIEGEL, EU ships operating off the coast of Somalia have not only been given the green light to ward off or capture pirates -- they can also sink their ships.

The mission, involving half a dozen ships, up to three reconnaissance aircraft as well as unmanned drones, began a week ago and has not yet reached full strength. The German government has already agreed to contribute a frigate and 1,400 troops. The Karlsruhe is already in the region and is waiting for final approval from the German parliament, the Bundestag. Approval is expected to come on Friday.

The exact combat rules governing the EU mission -- which is backed by a United Nations mandate -- have been kept secret. German parliamentarians were allowed to see them last week, but only in a special room in parliament set aside for viewing top secret documents.

The EU mission took over where the NATO mission Operation Allied Provider left off. That mission escorted aid shipments to Somalia to keep them out of the hands of pirates, but it did little to reduce the growing number of brazen attacks off the Horn of Africa. In addition to the EU ships now operating in the region, there are a number of other warships from the United States, Germany and Denmark conducting anti-terrorism missions there. Other countries also have warships in the region. The EU mission is scheduled to run until the end of 2009.

Attacks on shipping in the region have been rising in both frequency and audacity this fall and winter. In September, Somali pirates hijacked a Ukrainian vessel carrying 30 Russian T-72 tanks. In November, it was the Sirius Star, a Saudi oil tanker carrying almost $100 million (€74.7 million) worth of crude. Recently, pirates attempted an attack on a cruise ship, but were unsuccessful. The shipping route off the coast of Somalia is used by 12 percent of worldwide maritime trade and 30 percent of oil trade, particularly as ships head to and from the nearby Suez Canal.

As part of the worldwide effort to combat the piracy threat, the US recently submitted a proposal to the United Nations Security Council which would allow anti-pirate operations inside Somalia itself. But US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday admitted that the US didn't have enough reliable intelligence to conduct such operations. "With the level of information we have at the moment, we're not in a position to do that kind of land-based operation," Gates said at a regional security meeting in Bahrain, according to Reuters. "Our first need is intelligence, (to know) who is behind it."

Some observers doubt that a purely maritime response to the pirates will be enough. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, an expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Reuters that "the single most difficult problem the forces are facing is that they don't have the jurisdiction to chase (the pirates) into their natural habitat on land."

He also said that there isn't yet an over-arching strategy being followed in combating the piracy problem on the Horn of Africa. "Military efforts to combat piracy continue to be fairly ad hoc," he said.

cgh -- with wire reports

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