NATO is to deploy up to seven warships off the Somali coast to defend UN ships delivering food aid from attacks by pirates, alliance officials said Thursday, dpa reported.
The decision, taken by NATO defence ministers meeting in Budapest, follows a specific request from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a similar initiative agreed by the European Union last week.
"There will soon be NATO military vessels off the coast of Somalia, deterring piracy and escorting food shipments," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters.
The ships, frigates carrying out routine exercises as part of NATO's standing naval maritime group, are expected to reach the region within two weeks.
Their role will be to escort World Food Programme (WFP) ships and to patrol the waters around Somalia to "help stop acts of piracy," Appathurai said.
More than 40 per cent of the Somali population is dependant on food aid being developed by ship by the UN relief agency.
Somalia's 3,025-kilometre coastline has been known as one of the world's most dangerous because of the country's decades of lawlessness, civil wars and a total lack of governance.
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council for the first time authorized foreign navies and aircraft to use force against Somali pirates.
The move follows last month's seizure by pirates of a Ukrainian freighter loaded with weapons and tanks reportedly destined for either Kenya or Sudan. The pirates were not aware of the shipments until they captured it and demanded a ransom of up to 30 million dollars for the unexpected booty.
Naval vessels from Canada, France, the Netherlands and Denmark have already been providing escort to ships carrying relief supplies for Somalia. But Canada said it would terminate its tour of duty on October 23, prompting the UN to ask for reinforcements.
Last week, EU defence ministers agreed to deploy three warships, one supply ship and three maritime surveillance aircraft in a similar operation.
And NATO officials said there would be full complementarity between the two missions.
Details of the NATO operation still needed to be fully worked out by governments, officials said.