More EU aircraft needed for Somali pirates: commander

The European Union needs to deploy more aircraft to fight pirates off the Somali coast, the former commander of the EU’s anti-piracy task force says.
The EU launched “Operation Atalanta” in December to tackle the attacks on cargo ships that have earned pirates millions of dollars in ransom and have increased insurance costs, but hijackings have increased again in recent months.
The first commander to lead the force, Commodore Antonios Papaioannou, who returned to Greece in April, said this morning naval patrols alone could not eradicate pirate attacks in the region, Reuters adds.
“The EU operation could bring better results if more aircraft were sent … European aircraft with long range, useful in detecting (pirate) motherships that can then be inspected by special forces teams,” Papaioannou told Reuters in an interview.
Pirates have increased raids on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping lane for oil and cargo, despite the deployment of warships from the United States, Asia and Europe.
Greece took first command of the EU crisis-management force, with France, Italy, Germany and Britain among countries taking part. Spain took over in April.
The London-based International Maritime Bureau has said piracy incidents nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2009, almost entirely due to more attacks off Somalia. There were 18 attacks off its coast in March alone.
“We haven’t solved the problem, but we’ve made the pirates’ operations more difficult,” Papaioannou said, noting that the EU mission could contain but not eradicate piracy as long as law and order were not restored in Somalia.
Papaioannou said there were between 800 and 2000 pirates, mostly aged between 16 and 25. Young men with no work, money or prestige within their tribal groups are attracted to piracy, gaining wealth and status among their peers.
“We think of pirates as people with eye-patches and bandanas. This is not the case. They are very young, emaciated, barefoot and hungry,” said Papaioannou. “They are not trained: they are just people that can jump on a ladder holding a gun, and their guns are usually rusty.”
They usually ask for $2-4 million in ransom and about 30 percent of that is paid, he said. Pirates get a fraction of the money, which is also split between the negotiator, local Somali factions and those who guard the hijacked ships.
“The one who jumps first gets more money for being the most courageous and competent,” he said. “Once they bring in a hijacked ship they are considered important in their village. I’ve heard they become desirable husbands.”