Marines from the Spanish frigate, Blas de Lezo, talk to suspected pirates in their skiff in the Gulf of Aden in this Nato handout photo made available June 3 2009.
European Union defence ministers agreed on February 24 2010 to expand the objectives of Operation Atalanta to include control of Somali ports where pirate ships are based, as well as the possibility of "neutralising" the mother ships that allow the pirates to operate more than 1000km from the coast.
These two new functions will be launched at the end of March when the winter monsoon draws to an end, and could involve an increase in the number of personnel and resources assigned to the operation.
The ministers also agreed to increase the level of co-operation and collaboration with Nato and other countries that are carrying out surveillance operations in this part of the Indian Ocean.
At a news conference at the end of the first day of the informal meeting of ministers that is taking place in Mallorca, Spain's defence minister, Carme Chacón, said that several countries had already said that they are prepared to contribute sea and air resources to reinforce Operation Atalanta beyond 2010.
The commanding officer of the operation, UK Royal Navy Rear Admiral Peter Hudson, said it was ready to assume these new tasks to improve the control and surveillance of the ports and to exercise the right to search at sea.
The ministers also agreed to improve the application of the agreements that exist with Kenya and the Seychelles for taking legal action against pirates that are detained and to increase efforts to achieve similar agreements with other countries in the region, such as Tanzania, Mauritius and South Africa.
"The credibility of the mission depends on our ability to arrest these pirates and bring them to justice," Chacón said, according to a media statement by the Spanish presidency of the EU.
The meeting also discussed the approval and the launch of an operation to train Somalian security forces that would take place in Uganda and could be started in May.
This mission, which would be led by Spain, also won support from the ministers of defence, many of whom offered their governments' willingness to contribute resources and materials.
The working session in the afternoon was joined by representatives from the five states of the Maghreb with which the European Union hopes to strengthen ties: Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.
According to Chacón, it is a question of involving the countries of the Mediterranean in the tasks of controlling and combating organised crime, drug trafficking and the trafficking of people whose access to Europe involves crossing this shared sea.
"We must learn to collaborate and to improve our capabilities for detecting and reacting to common risks," Chacón said, adding that the EU is studying the possibility of carrying out this work with Battle Groups.
In response to questions about the absence EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the Secretary General of Spanish Defence Policy, Luis Cuesta, told journalists that the meeting had been prepared "in close collaboration and with the participation" of Ashton, who, in fact, sent a letter of apology for her absence as well as making proposals and giving her thoughts.