Brussels/London: Deploying helicopter gunships and airborne troops, European Union on Tuesday for the first time struck land bases of Somali pirates, sinking five fast patrol boats of the sea-bandits, who have plagued vital oil shipping lanes across the Indian Ocean.
Gunships lifted from warships ringing the Somali coasts to strike at a key pirate base near the port of Haradhire, on the Somali mainland, in a major escalation of international efforts to confront the pirates, BBC reported quoting NATO military sources in the Belgian capital.
"This action by the EU forces will increase the pressure on and disrupt pirates` efforts to get out at sea to attack merchant ships," an EU statement quoted top commander Rear Admiral Duncan Potts as saying.
The attack marks a first time that international forces have gone in to strike at private assets of the pirates on land, after several years of confronting them at sea.
So far anti-piracy forces have been reluctant to attack mainland bases for fear of the crew of captured ships. According to latest maritime figures, the pirates are still holding about 17 ships and 300 crew members as hostages.
The land attacks comes days after a Greek-owned oil tanker was hijacked in the Arabian sea with a crew of 26, including 11 Indians.
BBC said that the EU recently had agreed to expand `Operation Atlanta` to allow forces to attack land bases in a significant development in the fight against Somali piracy.
The new attack was carried out overnight and according to European forces no Somali were hurt during the action.
"The multinational forces used helicopters in conjunction with two warships to leave five of the pirates` fast attack craft inoperable."
"The focused, precise and proportionate action was conducted from the air and all forces returned safely to EU warships on completion," a European naval mission said in a statement.
A spokesman added that the operation was carried out with the full support of the Somali government after extensive surveillance, and the aim was to deny the pirates a safe haven onshore.
Military vessels from NATO countries, the US, China, Russia, Japan and India are also involved in patrolling an area of ocean which is about the same size as western Europe.
Two decades of war in Somalia have left the country without a fully-functioning government making it hard to deal with piracy. The transitional government controls the capital Mogadishu, but al-Shabab militants hold many southern and central areas of the country.