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Wed 3 Dec 2008 01:11 AM

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UN renews right to use force against Somali pirates

Extension will allow EU to begin combined air and naval operation on Dec. 8.

The UN Security Council on Tuesday renewed its authorization for countries to use military force against pirates operating off Somalia who have crippled one of the world's most important shipping lanes.

The US-drafted resolution, adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council, extends for one year the right of countries with permission from Somalia's transitional government to enter Somali waters to pursue and attack pirates.

"The international community is sending a very strong signal of its determination to deal with piracy," said French UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert.

He told reporters it would enable the European Union to start an air and naval operation off Somalia on Dec. 8. The operation is expected to involve five to six ships at any given time, plus maritime surveillance aircraft.

"We think it will act both as a deterrent and also [provide] some immediate capacity to follow on and pursue pirates, if we can catch them," Ripert said.

One unresolved issue is jurisdiction over captured pirates and where they can be prosecuted.

US envoy Rosemary DiCarlo told reporters Washington hoped more countries would use a 1988 convention against unlawful acts committed at sea to put captured pirates on trial.

Ripert was confident the EU operation would improve security in the Gulf of Aden, a major sea lane for Middle East oil used by ships heading to and from the Suez canal.

There have been around 95 pirate attacks in Somali waters this year, with some 40 ships taken, including a Saudi tanker holding $100 million of oil. There are already several international naval operations along the Horn of Africa, including a NATO mission to counter piracy, but they have done little to deter hijackers, who have been paid tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.

Nikos Tzanetakos, deputy captain of the Greek tanker Ellivita which crossed the gulf last month carrying Saudi oil to the United States, told Ta Nea newspaper his crew prevented pirates from boarding by draping the hull in electrified wire.

"The military ships are only acting as traffic police in the Gulf of Aden," Tzanetakos said. "The situation there is permanently out of control and there is panic among the sailors, who have to pass through those waters."

Last weekend pirates came within 300m of the Nautica cruise ship operated by Miami-based Oceania Cruises Inc, the company said.

"One of the [pirate] skiffs... fired eight rifle shots in the direction of the vessel before trailing off," Oceania Cruises said in a statement. "No one aboard Nautica was harmed and no damage was sustained." (Reuters)

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