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Warships from all Russian Navy fleets to fight piracy off Somalia

RIA Novosti

23/11/2008 18:28 (Adds new information in paras 9-13)

MOSCOW, November 23 (RIA Novosti) - Warships from all of the Russian Navy fleets will be involved in measures to fight piracy in the Horn of Africa region, Russia's Navy commander said on Sunday.

Pirates are increasingly active in the waters off Somalia, where more than 60 ships have been attacked so far this year resulting in the seizure of over 30 vessels. The East African nation has been without a functioning government since 1991 and has no navy to police its coastline.

"Regular presence in that problem region means the accomplishment of tasks both by separate warships and warship groups from all the fleets to ensure safe shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa region as a whole," Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said.

The U.S. Defense Department said on Wednesday that there had been 95 piracy attacks reported in the region this year, 39 of which were successful.

"There are at least 18 ships being held by Somali pirates as we speak," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "I believe our count is that 330 mariners are being held hostage by these criminals. And they come from 25 nations across the world."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his quarterly report to the UN Security Council on Wednesday that pirates were estimated to have received up to $30 million in ransoms this year.

In October, Russia sent the Neustrashimy (Fearless) missile frigate from the Northern Fleet to Somalia's coast to protect Russian vessels in the country's waters. The Russian warship has prevented the seizure of at least two foreign vessels in the area.

NATO and the EU have recently announced plans to increase their naval presence in the Gulf of Aden and will launch on December 8 a joint naval operation, dubbed Atalanta, against piracy near the Somali coast. The operation could involve up to 10 warships.

Captain 1st rank Igor Dygalo, an aide to the Russian Navy commander, said the Neustrashimy was currently escorting five ships in the Gulf of Aden.

Dygalo also said that a task force from Russia's Northern Fleet led by the Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser would visit La Guaira in Venezuela from November 25 to December 1,

The Northern Fleet task force also includes the large anti-submarine warfare ship Admiral Chabanenko and support ships.

"On December 1, after the end of the visit, the Russian warships will hold joint exercises with the Venezuelan Navy," Dygalo said.

Dygalo said the exercises would be held in the Caribbean Sea to practice joint maneuvering, inspection operations (with inspector teams landing on board the vessels), assistance to a distressed ship and operations to replenish supplies on the move.

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