NATO warships will start to escort aid cargos to Somalia in a bid to stem mounting piracy in the waters off the Horn of Africa.
"In a few days, operations will begin," chief NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters in Brussels, explaining "the operational plan and the rules of engagement should be agreed and finalized in the next day or two."
NATO frigates and destroyers are en route to the area where more than 30 ships have fallen victim to increasing acts of piracy this year, he said.
Appathurai said the warships and their crews would have ‘a full range of self defense’ measures, including the use of force. Captured pirates would be dealt with under the rules of the nation that each ship involved belongs to, he added.
The spokesman acknowledged the alliance would, however, have a complicated task ahead as it would have to deal with ‘a host of pirates’ who are not immediately identifiable.
Vessels will also help look after UN World Food Program (WFP) aid shipments to Somalia, planned to go under Dutch escort on Thursday, until the European Union can launch its own operation later this year.
The dangerous Somali waters have become a hotbed for acts of piracy, especially in the north where an adjacent maritime route runs to the Suez Canal.
The pirates keep seizing ships and their crews, some times for weeks, demanding large ransoms from governments or owners.
On October 9, the EU announced its mission, led by Vice-Admiral Philip Jones, would be run from a headquarters at Northwood, north of London.
Appathurai said the presence of the ships — from Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and possibly Britain– is hoped to deter would-be pirates, saying vessels from India and Russia would also join the armada.
"There will be a number of very competent and very effective military ships coordinating with each other … to provide presence, to provide deterrence and where necessary and possible to intervene to prevent acts of piracy," he said.