NAIROBI - European Union naval forces say they have destroyed pirate skiffs on Somalia's coast, in their first-ever on-shore operation. Somalia's Transitional Federal Government says it welcomes the EU's efforts, but is concerned about the risk to civilians.
The naval forces targeted pirate boats lined up along the shoreline near the town of Haradhere in Somalia's Galmudug region, a major center of pirate activity.
Lieutenant Commander Jacqueline Sherriff, spokesperson for the EU Naval Force, says the operation took place around midnight Tuesday and was over within minutes.
“The operation was carried out using an EU Naval Force helicopter," she explained. "At no point did boots go on the ground, and EU forces did not go on the ground, and basically what the guys in the helicopter were able to do was focus in on these attack skiffs and fire at them and make them inoperable.”
The operation represents a change in tactics for the EU Naval Force, which was launched in 2008 to protect ships at sea around the Horn of Africa.
The EU expanded its mandate in March of this year to allow operations targeting pirate supplies along the shore.
Lieutenant Commander Sherriff says the new mandate will make it more difficult for pirates to escape.
“Before we could only operate at sea, which was quite frustrating actually, because there were the pirates on the beach and they knew we couldn't touch them if they were feet dry,” she noted.
Somali pirates have made hundreds of millions of dollars in the past five years hijacking ships and holding the vessels and their crews for ransom. But the number of successful hijackings has dropped sharply in the past several months, as ships take greater precautions, such as traveling with armed guards, and naval forces take more aggressive action against the pirates.
Sherriff says Somalia's Transitional Federal Government was aware of the new mandate allowing operations on shore, but they were not informed directly about this specific operation before it took place.
TFG spokesperson Abdurahman Omar Osman says the government welcomes the EU's military involvement, but believes more should be done to help coastal communities affected by piracy.
“While we appreciate this, we also recognize that the root cause of piracy lies inland," he noted, "where the Transitional Federal Government would prefer more resources be put into coastal communities, whether it is for employment or youth opportunities, so that will help in the long-term.”
He added that the TFG is worried about civilian casualties from such operations. There were no reported injuries from Tuesday's raid.