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Maritime office favours soldiers on board ships

The Swiss Maritime Navigation Office (SMNO) is supporting President Pascal Couchepin's proposal that soldiers be sent to protect Swiss ships sailing near Somalia.

On Monday, the head of the Basel-based SMNO, Reto Dürler, told Swiss radio that experience had shown the presence of soldiers on board vessels was effective in preventing attacks.

Dürler was responding to a statement Couchepin made in the SonntagsZeitung newspaper saying the government was ready to send soldiers to protect Swiss ships from pirates.

Couchepin said that the legal, financial and practical consequences had to be studied before a final decision was taken.

His proposal has been attacked by some parliamentarians from the rightwing Swiss People's Party and the Greens, as well as a military expert.

The expert, Albert Stahel, a professor at Zurich University, called the plan a "crackpot idea", saying the government had to consider more serious action, such as placing the Swiss fleet under the flag of a naval power in order to be protected by it.

Dürler rejected this idea as unthinkable and called attention to the mandate given by the government to the 35 freighters of the Swiss fleet to ensure supplies to the country during war or times of crisis.

Two ships flying Swiss flags were scheduled to brave the waters off Somalia this week, but one of them, a tanker belonging to Mega Chemicals in canton Thurgau, has opted to go around the Cape of Good Hope instead.


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