Atlanta: The European Union authorised its navies to strike Somali pirate equipment on land as foreign ministers on Friday beefed up the anti-piracy mission and extended it until December 2014.
The EU`s Operation Atalanta has deployed between five and 10 warships off the Somali coast since 2008 to escort humanitarian aid shipments and thwart pirate raids on commercial vessels using vital shipping lanes.
Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed to extend "the force`s area of operations to include Somali coastal territory as well as its territorial and internal waters," said an EU statement.
The new mandate will allow warships or helicopters to fire at fuel barrels, boats, trucks or other equipment stowed away on beaches, an EU official said on condition of anonymity.
"Piracy has caused so much misery to the Somali people and to the crews of ships transiting the area and it is right that we continue to move forward in our efforts," said Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, Atalanta`s operational commander.
EU officials insisted that no ground troops would be deployed and that missiles would be launched from the sea.
"The EU plan is to allow attacks on land installations when ships are assaulted at sea," Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters, adding that "much care" would be taken to avoid civilian deaths.
Spain and Germany had voiced reservations about allowing strikes on pirate lairs, but they lifted their objections this week.
"Today`s important decision extends Atalanta`s mandate for two more years and allows it to take more robust action on the Somali coast," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The ministers also activated the first EU Operations Centre to oversee three missions in the Horn of Africa.
In addition to Operation Atalanta, the EU has trained Somali soldiers in Uganda since 2010 and is preparing a civilian mission to help the countries in the region police their waters.
Seeking to fight the root causes of piracy, Ashton said the ministers would also discuss how "young men who are enticed to become pirates can be offered real alternatives" and a better life.