- Commander of NATO's anti-piracy patrol which is expected to kick off operation in Somalia is adamant that it will be tricky task to defend ships from pirate attacks, with rules of engagement still being debated.
"Time that a pirate unveils himself to time that he's onboard ship is such a short period of time," Admiral Mark Fitzgerald told BBC today, saying all they are doing is to make preparations to get to the core of the situation.
More than 30 ships have reportedly been seized this year in busy shipping lanes near Somalia and in Gulf of Aden.
NATO is said to sending seven frigates to support US navy vessels already there, while India and several European countries have said they would also mount anti-piracy patrols.
Admiral Fitzerald said NATO's mission was mainly to protect ships carrying United Nations (UN) aid to Somalia, where more than three million people, are in need of food aid.
But he hoped that NATO vessels would be able to protect other ships. Around 20,000 vessels are said to pass by Somalia each year.
"We're there to try to deter pirates," he was quoted as saying.
However, given amount of traffic in area, he said, it was difficult to spot who was a pirate and who was not. "From a military standpoint, we certainly are limited by what we can do. How do you prove a guy's a pirate before he actually attacks a ship?" he asked.
He also said that North Atlantic Council was still drawing up rules of engagement for pirates. but, earlier this month, NATO spokesman James Appathurai told media that their war ships would be able to use force if necessary in accordance with international law.
Piracy off coast of Somalia is estimated to have cost up to US$30m in ransoms so far this year, according to a recent report.
Authorities in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland say they are often powerless to confront pirates, many of who are based in town of Eyl.
Most vessels are reportedly freed after their owners pay hefty sums, but about 10 are still being held, most notably MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship loaded with 33 tanks and ammunition headed for Kenya.
Human Rights Watch considers Somalia as most ignored tragedy in world.
Somalia has lacked a functioning central government since 1991 and has been afflicted by continual civil unrest.
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