South West MEP Graham Watson has used a trip to the north-east African state of Djibouti to pay tribute to the naval forces taking part in the anti-piracy and maritime security operations off the Somalian coast.
Around 15 ships from thirteen European nations take part in EU NAVFOR, the first military operation launched by the EU. This has included the Devonport-based frigate HMS Northumberland, which carried out the first operation in November 2008 and in December returned from duties in the Middle East.
During these tours HMS Northumberland escorted numerous World Food Programme ships into Somali ports, helping to deliver enough food to feed millions of people. The International Maritime Bureau estimate that the number of attacks fell by 50 per cent% in 2010 thanks to the patrols.
Graham, who was speaking at an international conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Horn of Africa, said: “Piracy has plagued this area for many years. In 2008 alone, 125 ships were attacked and 900 seafarers and vessel passengers were taken hostage. This has had a serious impact on development in the Horn of Africa and high profile cases have shown that no-one is safe from attacks.
“The vessels and personnel taking part in operations here – including those from my constituency in Plymouth – are making a huge difference to the lives of millions and this must be applauded. What makes this is even more satisfying is that by acting with our European allies we can have the same impact for a fraction of the cost.
He also called for wider political action to bring security to the region. Saying: “Politicians need to do more to bring about land-based stability in countries like Somalia to reinforce the progress EU NAVFOR has made at sea. Peace and prosperity are the only things that can truly bring an end to piracy here.”
(from a press release)