NATO anti-piracy mission to start late March

NATO will send five ships to take part in a new counter-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia at the end of this month, the alliance said on Friday.
Operation “Allied Protector” will involve ships from Portugal, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States.
Reuters says the force will be commanded by Portuguese Rear Admiral Jose Pereira da Cunha and overseen by British Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope from a NATO command centre in Northwood, England.
“In conjunction with other nations and international organisations we aim to enhance the safety of commercial maritime routes vital for the global economy,” Stanhope said in a statement.
A surge in piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes off Somalia has caused international alarm, and warships from around the world have been deployed in the area to try to curb the hijacks.
Somali pirates, typically in small groups aboard speedboats, have earned millions of dollars in ransoms after boarding and seizing vessels — from fishing trawlers to a Saudi supertanker.
The NATO operation follows a similar alliance mission last year. A first phase will be undertaken as the force heads for what will be NATO’s first ever deployment in Southeast Asia and the second as it returns to European waters at the end of June.
In Asia the group will make stops in Karachi, Pakistan, and Singapore, and also in Perth, Australia.
The European Union, many of whose states are NATO members, launched anti-piracy patrols off Somalia in December. The EU presidency said after talks among EU defence ministers in Prague on Thursday it was possible this one-year mission could be extended.
Reuters meanwhile adds Japan has ordered two naval vessels to join the international patrol after months of deliberations on how to help protect cargo ships without breaching its pacifist constitution.
The destroyers are to set off from the port of Kure in southern Japan on Saturday, three months after neighbouring China sent its own ships to the Gulf of Aden in a display of its growing naval muscle.
Navy patrols by vessels from 18 countries have helped bring down the number of attacks on cargo ships from a peak of 37 in November to just seven in February.
“Piracy is a threat to the international community, including Japan, and it is an issue that should be dealt with immediately,” Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters on Friday after issuing the order.
“It is the government’s important responsibility to protect the lives and property of the Japanese in these waters, which are an essential marine traffic area for our country.”
Resource-poor Japan imports more than 80 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East, much of which is shipped through the waters now at risk from piracy.
Saturday’s dispatch is being ordered under a marine policing law which restricts its activities, but the cabinet also approved on Friday a new bill for submission to parliament that would broaden the legal scope for such missions.
If passed, it would allow Japan’s navy to protect ships that have no connection with Japan, and also allow sailors to use weapons in a broader range of circumstances, Japanese media say. 
Piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping areas, has become a major problem over the past six months, pushing up marine insurance premiums and forcing some ships to avoid the area.
Japan’s recent overseas military missions, such as the dispatch of ground troops to Iraq on a non-combat mission that ended in 2006, have been opposed by voters.
But the anti-piracy mission is largely supported by the public, opinion polls show. A survey in the Yomiuri daily this week found 62 percent of respondents supported the dispatch, up five points from the previous survey a month earlier.