AFM team being readied for Somalia operation.
A team of Maltese soldiers will soon be dispatched to Somalia to take part in an EU mission against sea piracy. Malta was engaged in talks with the Dutch government to establish the role of its army in the mission, dubbed Operation Atalanta, a government spokesman said.
EU Council sources were more specific, however, saying Malta will be sending 12 highly-trained soldiers to be stationed on a Dutch warship.
"The Maltese soldiers will be engaged in patrolling the Somali coast together with their counterparts from other member states and to intervene whenever necessary," the sources said.
The platoon will join the almost 1,500 troops from various member states already present in the area for the mission.
The sources also said that Malta, through three infantry trainers from the Armed Forces of Malta, would be taking part in another EU mission in Uganda to train Somali security forces. They would be in Uganda in the spring.
The aim is to train 2000 Somali recruits up to platoon level, including specialised training for officers.
The government spokesman said Malta's participation in Operation Atalanta was in the island's interest as it had one of the largest shipping registers in the EU.
"It is in our direct interest to protect these Malta-registered ships, which are having enormous difficulties navigating close to Somali waters. The success of this EU operation will also affect shipping routes. If the Somali coast remains dangerous, ships might tend to start bypassing the Suez Canal and take a different route. That would affect our maritime trade directly as we will have fewer ships passing close to Malta, directly affecting many maritime services we supply such as bunkering and transhipment."
Piracy off the Somali coast has been a threat to international shipping since the beginning of the Somali civil war a few years ago. Since 2005, many international organisations, including the International Maritime Organisation and the World Food Programme, have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy, which has also contributed to an increase in shipping costs and impeded the delivery of food aid shipments. Tens of ships, including Maltese registered vessels, have been hijacked by Somali pirates who then negotiate their release for a massive ransom.
The participation of AFM personnel in EU military missions is not new although this is the first time that Malta will be contributing significantly since joining the bloc in 2004.
Two Maltese soldiers are taking part in an EU mission in Georgia together with 380 soldiers dispatched to the region after the brief war with Russia in 2008. Another Maltese officer has been working for the past few months in London where Operation Atalanta's coordination office is based.