Belgium launches fight against pirates

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The Louise-Marie, a Belgian marine frigate, is leaving the Port of Zeebruges on its way to the Horn of Africa. From 1 September until 13 December the warship will accompany cargo ships to protect them from pirates.

The launch is part of a European Union effort to combate piracy off the Somali coast.

The Louise-Marie will patrol the waters between the Gulf of Aden and the Seychelles, an area the size of the Mediterranean Sea.

The operation is not without risk. "We have to keep sharp and alert and make sure we do not come under pirate fire," says Jan De Beurme, commander of the Louise-Marie.

"We have been issued very clear guidelines and we will not hesitate to follow them if necessary. The possibility that we could come under fire is also very real."

This is the first time that the Belgium has worked to combat piracy, as part of Operation Atalanta, a European Union campaign to stop piracy in the Somali coast. 

The aim of Atalanta is to protect vessels of the World Food Programme delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia, to protect cruising vessels, as well as the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast.
The naval patrol includes vessels from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

Global pirate attacks more than doubled in the first half of 2009 to 240 from 114 in the same period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau. 

International patrols have reduced the success rates of the attacks but with ransoms running into millions of Euros the pirates are adapting their tactics.

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