ATHENS – With its economy sinking at home, Greece is bailing out of the European Union’s anti-piracy campaign off the coast of Somalia to save money. Struggling with its worst budget crisis since World War II, Greece is going to cut its defense budget by $528.7 million as part of plans to slash $4.2 billion in government spending this year. The cuts are required by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) as a condition of obtaining a second bailout of $172 billion to complement a first series of rescue loans of $152 billion to keep the country from defaulting.
Somali pirates in small craft have been targeting ships off Somalia’s coast for several years and, apart from a few incidents in which they have been captured or killed – most noticeably by U.S. Navy Seals a few years ago – had been plundering almost at will until the EU began an operation to protect international waters.
Greece had contributed one frigate, the Hydra, to help patrol, as the shipping lanes are often used by Greek vessels or Greek-owned ships flying flags of other countries to avoid paying taxes in Greece. Greek officials said the frigate will return on March 8 instead of April 4, as its original deployment stated. It costs Greece $3.3 million a month to keep the craft in the region.
“It was a navy recommendation and it was accepted by Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos,” a source told Agence-France-Presse, adding that: “It falls under government policy on spending cuts.” No Greek warship will participate in the next two-month tour of duty this year, saving another five million euros, the source added.
In 2008, the EU began the Atalanta mission in the seas off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean, where pirates pose a major threat to international shipping. Since its launch it has arrested and sent for prosecution 117 suspected pirates, and last year alone disrupted 27 pirate action groups. EU foreign ministers last month extended the mission until December 2014.
(Sources: Reuters, AFP)