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EU Launches Horn of Africa Anti-Piracy Mission

The European Union, or EU, launches its first naval operation on Monday - to the Horn of Africa. The goal: to crack down on rampant piracy.

The European Union is sending six warships and three surveillance planes to tackle a massive problem - piracy off Somalia's waters that has resulted in almost 100 ships being attacked this year alone. The ships take over from NATO vessels now trying to maintain security over a vast region - more than 1.5 million square kilometers.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana recently outlined the tasks facing the new mission.

"It will be a very solid operation," said Javier Solana. "It will have robust rules of engagement and it will be able to deter, to prevent, to protect and, in particular, to protect the United Nations humanitarian component in those waters vis-à-vis Somalia."

The EU mission will be headquartered near London and last for at least a year. Vessels from at least eight European countries will escort aid ships and conduct anti-piracy operations.

Somali pirates are holding about 16 ships and more than 350 crew members off their country's coast. They generally ask for huge ransoms in exchange for the vessels' release.

Besides the European Union and NATO operations, private companies are offering escort services through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping routes.