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Portuguese admiral leads the NATO pirate patrol off Somalia

NATO'S anti-piracy flotilla will resume patrols off the Horn of Africa soon, joining an international squadron already operating in the region, the alliance said yesterday.

A NATO statement said the five ships will reach the pirate-infested waters off the Somali coastline within days. They will do a stint with the anti-piracy patrols there before sailing on for a tour of Southeast Asia.

"This is another contribution by the alliance to the overall international effort to tackle piracy in this part of the world," said spokesman James Appathurai. "We have many partners alongside us and it appears that international efforts seem to be having a positive effect."

The NATO flotilla, codenamed Allied Provider, is to return to Europe in June but some of its warships may stay to help monitor the waters of the Gulf of Aden.

The flotilla of ships from Portugal, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States is commanded by a Portuguese admiral.

Pirate attacks in the busy sea lanes off the Somali coastline hit unprecedented levels last year, and NATO responded to appeals by the United Nations by deploying a three-warship flotilla to escort World Food Program cargo vessels carrying desperately needed food aid to Somalia.

It was the trans-Atlantic alliance's first naval deployment in the Indian Oceans.

Nearly half the Somali population is dependent on aid, which is provided mainly by the World Food Program, whose chartered ships were attacked by pirates repeatedly before the original NATO flotilla arrived.

In December, the NATO ships were replaced by a European Union flotilla. Warships from other countries, including China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, have also joined in.

Pirate attacks on merchant shipping have fallen in the past two months but they are expected to increase when the monsoon season ends.

Yesterday, pirates captured a Norwegian-owned cargo vessel off the coast of Somalia with a crew of 23 people aboard, a US Navy spokesman said.


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