New hopes have been raised for cruising sailors wanting to cross the Indian Ocean with the very first proactive attack by European Union naval forces into Somalia this week, after promising to take more positive action. The EU Naval Force had announced in March that it would expand its mission to include Somalia's coast and waterways inside the country for the first time.
Pirates, suddenly sorry
An EU spokesman said that EU forces in attack helicopters conducted their first onshore raid this week on a suspected pirate lair. A pirate said the strike destroyed a supply centre and set back operations.
No deaths were reported in the Tuesday morning attack on Handulle village, about 18 kilometres north of Haradhere town, a key pirate lair. EU officials said forces did not go on land during the attack.
Bile Hussein, a pirate commander, told news outlets that the attack along Somalia's central coastline destroyed speed boats, fuel depots and an arms store.
'They destroyed our equipment to ashes. It was a key supplies centre for us,' Hussein said. 'The fuel contributed to the flames and destruction. Nothing was spared.'
He said nine speed boats were destroyed, and that three of them were on standby for hijackings.
Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said the raid was carried out with the full knowledge of Somalia's government and it serves as a message to the pirates that they'll neither be safe at sea or on land.
The EU is the main donor to the Somali transitional government. It also trains Somali army troops, and is reinforcing the navies of five neighbouring countries to enable them to counter piracy themselves. The long coastline of war-ravaged Somalia provides a perfect haven for pirate gangs preying on shipping off the East African coast.
'This action against piracy is part of a comprehensive EU approach to the crisis in Somalia, where we support a lasting political solution on land,' said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Pirates have turned dangerously violent in the last few years, as spiraling ransoms attracted ruthless criminals to a trade once dominated by aggrieved local fishermen.
In the first quarter of this year, attacks fell sharply in Somalia's waters, thanks to international naval patrols. There were 43 attacks, including nine vessel hijackings, compared with 97 attacks a year ago, the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur said in April.
The EU's more robust mandate for its naval force allows it for the first time to mount strikes against pirate targets on Somalia's 'coastal territory and internal waters.' When the policy was announced, officials said the new tactics could include using warships or their helicopters to target pirate boats moored along the shoreline, as well as land vehicles or fuel tanks used by the pirates.
The new approach won't see prudent cruising sailors in the north west Indian Ocean any time soon, but it's a step in the right direction. More than 200 cruising sailors used to transit the Gulf of Aden on their way to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean. Since the deaths of several cruising sailors at the hands of pirates this figure has been cut to almost zero, and those that do go are doing so against the advice of everyone from the EU and Coalition forces to the International Sailing Federation.