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Iran sends warship to Somalia.

The Islamic Republic has dispatched a warship to confront pirates operating in the waters off Somalia, the Foreign Ministry announced Monday.

The announcement did not name the ship or even identify its size or type.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi did say the Iranian warship would "act in cooperation with the international community to safeguard safe passage in open seas."

That presumably meant it would operate in association with a flotilla of warships now operating in the area to combat the rash of piracy.

Iran has been a major victim of the piracy. On August 21, the Iranian-own and - flagged cargo vessel Iran Diyanat was hijacked and taken into a Somalia port. The ship was freed after the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) paid a ransom of undisclosed size in October.

In November, the ship Delight, flying the Hong Kong flag but leased by Iran and carrying a cargo of wheat to Iran, was hijacked; it remains confined to a Somali port.

Last week, Mohammad Souri, chairman of the National Iranian Tanker Co., revealed for the first time that five Iranian-flagged supertankers had been attacked by pirates this year. He said the five all managed to outrun their attackers.

Qashqavi told reporters Monday that Iran would act decisively to free the Iranian leased ship still held in Somalia. That implied Iran was willing to launch an attack on the Somalia port.

No country has done that yet because such an attack would likely result in the crew being killed by the hijackers. Analysts generally thought Qashqavi's remarks were just rhetoric and that Iran would not attack either.

State radio reported that the unnamed Iranian warship arrived in the Gulf of Aden last week. There has been no word from the international flotilla operating in the region about the Iranian ship, however.

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It wasn't clear if state radio had its story right. The radio said the Iranian warship sailed "more than 4,000 nautical miles" to the Gulf of Aden. But it is less than 2,000 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz to the far western end of the Gulf of Aden.

Iran indicated only one ship had been dispatched. Without any support vessel accompanying it, the Iranian warship will likely need assistance from the international flotilla to provide water, fuel and food in order to remain deployed for any length of time.

China meanwhile, announced it was sending two warships and one support ship to Somalia to join the flotilla. The Chinese ships were due to leave port December 26. China said seven ships owned by China or carrying Chinese goods had been attacked so far this year.

Iran and China acted after the UN Security Council voted last week to provide a one-year mandate for forces combating the piracy to operate on land inside Somalia and not just in international waters off the lawless country, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

The European Union recently launched Operation Atalanta, its first joint naval mission, to attack the piracy off Somalia. The year-long operation involves 20 warships from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. The United States, India and some other countries also have warships in the area operating in association with Atalanta.

The international flotilla fought its first gunbattle with pirates last Wednesday. A Kenyan maritime group said the Chinese ship Zhenhua 4 reported it was under attack that day. Warships headed toward it and dispatched armed helicopters. The Chinese crew locked themselves below decks.

Chinese news reports said the choppers fired on the pirates and drove them off without killing any of them. The nationality of the helicopters was not given.

Helicopters are generally seen as an essential element in the fight. The sea area in which the pirates operate is so vast that ships generally cannot arrive in time before a vessel has been boarded. Helicopters are needed to get there swiftly. Iran has not said if the warship it dispatched carries any helicopters.

While the Chinese ship was rescued, three other vessels were successfully seized by pirates that same day, indicating the scale of the challenge.
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Dec 26, 2008
Words:693
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