The Seychelles and the European Union signed an agreement that would allow the deployment of EU troops on the Indian Ocean islands to counter a maritime crime wave by Somali pirates.
Attacks on merchant vessels and private yachts off the archipelago have surged in recent weeks as Somali gangs extend their range beyond the lawless Horn of Africa nation’s shores.
“The deterrent effect of capturing pirates and bringing them to justice is crucial if we are to bring this problem under control,” British High Commissioner Matthew Forbes, who signed the agreement on behalf of the EU, told a news conference.
The troops would be deployed to some of the Seychelles’ numerous islets and creeks, which experts fear could be used be pirates to plot attacks. It was not clear which nations would provide the forces.
Heavily armed pirates from Somalia are currently holding at least 11 vessels and more than 200 crew hostage, including a British couple whose yacht was hijacked off the Seychelles.
The presence of a multinational naval force patrolling the strategic shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia, has failed to curb their attacks.
Belgian Defence Minister Pieter de Crem, who was visiting the Seychelles for talks on Tuesday, called for the EU’s anti-piracy mission, Atalanta, to be extended beyond December 2010. Belgium takes the EU’s rotating presidency on July 1 next year.
The status of forces agreement with the EU follows similar separate deals with the United States and France.
France has placed French troops on its tuna fishing vessels, while Washington has sent aerial drones to the Seychelles to bolster its regional counter-piracy surveillance activities.
Last week, pirates seized a United Arab Emirates-flagged cargo ship loaded with weapons bound for Somalia in defiance of a UN arms embargo, maritime experts said.
Then on Monday, the gunmen launched their longest range hijack attempt yet opening fire on a giant Hong Kong-flagged crude oil tanker some 1000 nautical miles east of Mogadishu.
A police spokesperson in the Somali capital said yesterday that the UAE-flagged vessel had not been loaded with guns.
“The ship was carrying small items and cars, not weapons,” Abdullahi Hassan Barise told reporters.
The EU force said there were two more attempted hijackings yesterday one in the same area as Monday’s tanker attack.