Belgian military to protect ships off Somalia


Belgium will offer specially trained military teams to help its country’s ships fend off attacks by Somali pirates, the country’s defence ministry says after a Belgian ship was hijacked last month.

Reuters says ships would be charged €115 000 a week for protection from the soldiers who would only be deployed if a European Union force already in the region could not guarantee ships’ safety, said Defence Minister Pieter De Crem.

“From the beginning of May until the end of June, shipping groups can call on the Ministry of Defence which will deploy, in principle, eight soldiers per ship,” De Crem told a news conference.

Belgian shippers urged the government to help after the Pompei and its 10-strong crew, including seven Europeans, was seized by gunmen almost two weeks ago about 600km from the Somali coast en route to the Seychelles.

Somali gangs have made millions of dollars by hijacking commercial vessels in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, disrupting aid supplies and trade routes despite patrols by foreign navies.

The EU launched “Operation Atlanta” in December to help combat the attacks but hijackings have increased again in recent months. At least 15 ships were attacked off the coast of Somalia in March.