Berlin approves troops for EU anti-piracy mission
Experts warn that additional German troops joining anti-pirate operations in the Horn of Africa still does not guarantee safe passage.
Berlin -- The German government agreed on Wednesday to send troops and a frigate to join European Union-led anti-pirate operations off the Horn of Africa, a spokesman said.
Parliament must approve the measure on Dec. 19 before German forces can officially join the multinational naval operation which got under way on Monday.
To ensure the protection of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Somalia and nearby sea lanes government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters, "the cabinet has decided to send up to 1,400 soldiers to join in Operation Atalanta."
The parliamentary mandate is due to run until Dec. 15, 2009, he added.
German forces will join at least seven other countries in helping to patrol in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean where more than 120 attacks by Somali pirates have been reported this year alone.
The mandate allows up to 1,400 German troops to join the mission but far fewer soldiers are expected to actually serve, according to government sources.
Vessels from Belgium, Britain, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden are also expected to take part in the EU operation, which will escort aid ships and carry out anti-piracy surveillance duties.
The mission, dubbed Atalanta, took over from a NATO operation with four vessels in the area but is unlikely to be up to full strength before the end of the month.
At least 15 ships and more than 300 crew members are currently being held by pirates for ransom, including a Saudi super-tanker laden with oil and a Ukrainian vessel loaded with tanks and weaponry.
Germany's tourism industry called on the government on Wednesday to escort cruise ships through pirate infested waters off the Somali coast.
Foreign ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner warned, however, that the EU naval task force could not guarantee safe passage off the Somali coast, adding that shipping companies had to take all reasonable precautions.
The German based Hapag-Lloyd shipping company said on Tuesday that one of its cruise ships, which was on a tour around the world, was dropping off its passengers before sailing through Gulf of Aden as a safety measure.
More than 240 passengers and some crew members were to be flown from the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea to Salalah in Oman, on the Indian Ocean, where they would resume their cruise.
According to the company, the German government had refused to provide an escort to the MS Columbus as it is Bahamas-registered.