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Somali pirates: Does France have the most effective navy against the buccaneers?

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(Read caption) The French frigate Nivose with Somali pirate skiffs off the Somali coast on Friday.

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France has long been maligned in certain US political circles as – how shall we say this? – not very strong on defense. Other choice words have been used, of course. (Remember "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys"?) But when it comes to taking on Somali pirates, France is emerging as the most effective naval force.

French officials announced Sunday that the French frigate Nivose had captured 35 suspected Somali pirates, four pirate mother ships, and six smaller boats in four operations since Friday.

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The French military hailed this as "the biggest seizure" since the European Union launched its Atalanta mission in December 2008 to protect one of the world's busiest shipping lanes (the Gulf of Aden) from the growing threat of Somali pirates.

Despite this recent success, however, international naval forces have not been able to prevent a sharp rise in successful pirate attacks – and lucrative ransom deals – since Somalia's monsoon season ended last fall.

Most of those attacks – including the seizure of the Greek-owned Maran Centaurus, which was seized more than 800 miles east of Mogadishu with some 2 million barrels of oil – have been outside the heavily patrolled Gulf of Aden, as the Monitor reported.

"The reason it's still happening is that the big international naval deployment is concentrated in the Gulf of Aden, where there is a clearly defined, narrow shipping corridor, which is a much easier area to police," said Roger Middleton, piracy expert at the Chatham House think tank in London. "Now the pirates have packed up and moved much deeper into the Indian Ocean, which is just an enormous area. With the 30 or 40 ships available to the international naval force it is just not possible to police it properly."

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