UPDATE 4-EU helicopters strike Somali pirate base on land

Tue May 15, 2012 5:03pm GMT

* First time European Union gunships have hit coastline

* EU force uses helicopters and surveillance aircraft

* Pirates hijacked oil tanker last week

By Yara Bayoumy

NAIROBI, May 15 (Reuters) - European helicopter gunships attacked a pirate base on the Somali coast on Tuesday, destroying five speedboats, in the first such airborne strike on land by the anti-piracy force.

The Somali-based pirates responded by threatening to kill crew being held on more than a dozen hijacked vessels if they were attacked again.

The EU Naval Force (EU Navfor) said it had carried out the overnight raid on pirate targets using helicopters and surveillance aircraft with the agreement of the beleagured, Western-backed Somali government.

It was the first time EU Navfor had taken its fight against the pirates to Somali soil since its mandate was expanded earlier this year to allow strikes on land as well as sea.

But at risk are over 300 hostages of various nationalities held by the pirates, who have so far generally refrained from killing crew as they seek multi-million dollar ransoms.   Continued...

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