After months of fending off criticism over its contribution to international anti-piracy efforts, Norway’s Defense Ministry has decided to send surveillance aircraft to Somalia, to aid NATO’s anti-piracy operation off the coast of east Africa.
Norway remains a major shipping nation, and its shipowners have been highly critical that their own government hasn’t been helping enough to counter the ongoing threat their vessels face. Norway’s dispatch of a frigate to the Gulf of Aden a year-and-a-half ago needed to be followed up, they claimed, with more active defense measures.
Now Defense Minister Grete Faremo has agreed, not to send another frigate as yet, but rather an Orion maritime surveillance aircraft to help patrol the pirate-infested waters off Somalia.
“We see that the situation has grown worse, with pirates active in much larger areas,” Faremo told reporters on Monday. Faremo called recent developments “a clear change” in the piracy situation, and one which needed to be addressed quickly.
The maritime industry likely wouldn’t agree that the government has acted quickly, since they’ve been calling for more Norwegian military participation in the area for months. Shipowners have begun arming their vessels, while Sturla Henriksen of the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association publicly complained in January that the Norwegian government was leaving protection of its own merchant fleet to other countries active in the NATO-led anti-piracy effort.
Government officials like Faremo and a state secretary in the Foreign Ministry disagreed, saying the frigate sent in 2009 was “a major contribution” and that Norway didn’t have the capacity to help more at this time. Plans remain to send a frigate again in 2012, though, and now Faremo clearly hopes the surveillance flights will help as well.
“This is our contribution for this year, then we’ll come back to what we’ll do in 2012,” she said. Faremo added that “we want to contribute with relevant capacity,” and believes the Orion aircraft was most relevant. It can help spot pirates on the open sea, and alert vessels in the area.
It will take part in NATO’s so-called “Operation Shield” for three months beginning this fall. Norway will also send two officers to the NATO Shipping Center for up to eight months. Faremo noted that the Norwegian military has expertise in maritime surveillance, given the constant patrols of its own vast territory off the Norwegian coast.
Piracy in the busy shipping lanes leading from the Indian Ocean into the Suez Canal has exploded in recent years. Pirates are currently holding more than two-dozen vessels and 550 seafarers as hostage, and Faremo noted that the piracy also hinders relief efforts for war-torn Somalia.
The renewed anti-piracy contribution is expected to cost around NOK 32 million.