The European Union is to send a fleet of frigates and spotter aircraft to the sea off Somalia in order to combat piracy there, the bloc's foreign ministers decided Monday.
The decision, taken by ministers at their regular monthly meeting in Brussels, gives the green light to the five to seven frigates plus support aircraft of "Operation Atalanta" to deploy to the Horn of Africa around mid-December, officials said.
The force, commanded from the British naval base of Northwood by British Rear-Admiral Philip Jones, is tasked with protecting merchant ships and aid vessels bound for the Somalia port of Mogadishu, reproted dpa.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is "very interested in the mission, because some of the food (aid) that will have to go to Somalia will be protected by the mission," the EU's top diplomat, Javier Solana, said.
And EU ministers are approaching the "very challenging" mission "with a degree of humility as well as determination," Britain's foreign minister, David Miliband, said.
"I don't want to underestimate the difficulties" of maintaining a rotating fleet at sea through the stormy winter months, he said.
The decision to send the fleet has been complicated by concerns over how to treat any captured pirates in a situation where some EU member states still treat piracy as a separate crime and others cover it with their laws on assault or robbery.
"I think we need a solution to make it clear that if prisoners are taken, it should come to the appropriate judgement," Germany's Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said, who also attended the meeting.
International attention has focused sharply on the Somalia pirate situation in recent months following a spate of attacks and kidnappings and the capture of a Ukrainian ship laden with heavy weaponry.
In addition to the EU fleet, NATO, the US-led military alliance, and Russia have all sent ships to the area.