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Volume 481: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether there are plans to create a European Union-led naval task force to combat piracy. (226837)

Ministers from the Departments responsible for countering piracy have recently agreed that HMG should take a more proactive stance on dealing with this issue, recognising that this will be best achieved with international partners including NATO, the EU and coalition forces already in the Gulf of Aden.

We continue to work with our EU partners on measures to implement UNSCRs 1816 and 1838. In September we supported the establishment of an EU cell that aims to co-ordinate military escorts to World Food Programme shipping. We have also supported EU planning for a counter-piracy naval operation off the coast of Somalia, and on 14 October the EU Political and Security Committee decided to accept the offer made by the UK to provide the Operation Commander (Rear Admiral Phil Jones) and the Operation HQ (the Multinational Headquarters at Northwood).

A formal decision from the EU member states to allow planning for the operation to proceed to the next stage is expected in the next ten days. We have made it clear that the UK offer is conditional on sufficient forces being generated for the mission to be effective. Current estimates are for the operation to be launched towards the end of 2008, probably in December, once force generation and detailed planning is complete.

The key task of the operation will be to ensure the safe delivery of World Food Programme and other vital humanitarian deliveries to Somalia, but also to deter attacks on European and other shipping. EU partners are agreed that the ESDP operation is closely co-ordinated with other actors in the region, including Combined Task Force150 and NATO.

The ESDP operation will not solve the long-term problems of Somalia which are the root causes of piracy, and we will continue working with our international partners to restore governance.