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US, British forces rescue Italian ship from Somali pirates

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The foreign ministry said the U.S. and Britain had operated under the orders of Italian Admiral Gualtiero Mattesi, commander of the NATO Ocean Shield anti-piracy task force.

Earlier, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said Italy would shortly deploy a special naval force on merchant vessels to protect them from Somali gunmen in an escalation of international efforts to combat the scourge of piracy.

Many ships already carry private security contractors to counter piracy, but deployment of military forces is a significant boost in measures that had previously been hampered by disputes over the legality of using lethal force.

La Russa said the new force of naval soldiers would be divided into 10 groups of six to protect vessels using the busy but highly vulnerable waterways in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. It would be based in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

MOTHER SHIPS

Somali pirates operate hundreds of miles off the coast in vast tracts of ocean by using mother ships from which small boats are launched.

The latest Italian vessel to be hijacked, the Montecristo, was attacked 620 miles off the Horn of Africa coast on Monday morning, its owners said.

The commander of the Italian navy, Admiral Bruno Branciforte, told reporters in a joint news conference with La Russa that the new naval force would be deployed quickly, after its rules of engagement had been defined.

A decree law allowing the use of private security contractors and military forces was passed in parliament at the beginning of September. The defense ministry signed a protocol on Tuesday with Italian shipowners on deployment of the force, for which the owners will pay the costs.

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