NATO says it's winning war against Somali piracy

MUSCAT, July 21 Sat Jul 21, 2012 6:23am EDT

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MUSCAT, July 21 (Reuters) - The threat from Somali pirates is receding but the international community must continue to work together to eliminate the menace, a NATO official said on Saturday.

"We are getting more successful in reducing the Somali piracy threats with our constant patrolling but the international community must continue to exchange ideas and increase efforts to completely eradicate the problem," Commodore Ben Bekkering, NATO's counter-piracy commander, said at a news conference on Dutch war vessel HNLMS Evertsen in Muscat.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, there were 69 hijacking incidents by Somali pirates from Jan. 1 to July 12 this year, a drop of 32 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

"We are happy to say that Oman's navy is cooperating and helping us to find the hijackers but it is like looking for a needle in a haystack," Bekkering said.

Pirate gangs can stay out at sea for long periods using captured merchant vessels as mother ships and have been using Yemen's remote island of Socotra as a refueling hub.

Oman lies at the mouth of the Gulf, a strategic, heavily patrolled waterway which channels the bulk of the world's crude shipments.

"The Somali piracy crisis is costing world trade billions of dollars a year. It is important we all work together to stop it," Bekkering said.

NATO said earlier that increased use of armed security guards, and other defences like water cannon and razor wire are also helping reduce the number of successful attacks on merchant ships. (Editing by Andrew Roche)

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