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Ireland may join EU mission to help fight Somali pirates

IRELAND may join the fight against Somali pirates off the coast of Africa as part of an EU naval mission.

Dozens of the world's navies and air forces are trying to combat the scourge of pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean.

Kidnappings have seen deliveries of food aid and commercial shipping disrupted, while hundreds of mariners have been taken hostage.

Ireland has been asked by the EU naval mission in the area, EU NAVFOR's Operation Atalanta, to join the struggle against the pirates. The sea raiders operate successfully using skiffs or small boats and mother ships, and are armed with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The operational commander of the EU's first maritime mission has invited Ireland to contribute an armed detachment which would be used to protect ships.

Ireland at present does not have any ships or personnel attached to the mission but the unit, called an autonomous vessel protection detachment, (AVPD), would be used to protect vessels such as food aid ships from the World Food Programme without a naval escort.

Minister of State Fergus O'Dowd said the Department of Defence was considering whether it can contribute a detachment to the mission.

Ireland already contributes seven soldiers to EUTM Somalia, an EU-mission based in Uganda which trains Somali forces to fight the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militants.

The Government last week approved a further three soldiers to join that mission, bringing the number of Irish trainers in Uganda to 10.

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