Colombo: Dutch marines have begun using their former colony Sri Lanka as a hub to protect merchant shipping against piracy in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, officials said on Thursday.
The first group of Royal Netherlands Navy personnel returned home through Colombo today marking the use of Sri Lankan soil for the first time since World War II, officials from the two countries said.
The Dutch ruled Sri Lanka for 140 years till the British ousted them and established a colony in the late 18th century.
A Dutch official in Colombo said their Vessel Protection Team (VPT) disembarked in Colombo saving about four days of travel time if they had to proceed to their previous base of Singapore.
"The previous Dutch military presence goes back to the Second World War period," the official said.
The VPT escorts vessels originating from Suez and going through the Indian Ocean, the Netherlands embassy said in a statement.
"The cooperation with the Sri Lankan authorities is of importance, since Sri Lanka is geographically positioned at the boundary of the greatest risk area to ships," the statement said.
Sri Lankan Navy officials said the Dutch have been allowed the use of Colombo as a hub for their military escorts of merchant shipping.
An estimated 300 vessels use the east-west route through the Indian Ocean.
Some of the pirate attacks have taken place within the Indian Ocean.
Heavily-armed pirates using high-powered speedboats have operated in the Gulf of Aden for several years, preying on ships and sometimes holding them for weeks before releasing them for large ransoms paid by governments or ship owners.
But the number of attacks diminished after an international deployment of warships to patrol the coast of the Horn of Africa as well as the Indian Ocean.