Pirates preying on the world’s busiest shipping route in the Gulf of Aden have provoked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) to deploy a permanent patrol off the coast of Somalia, writes Thomas Land from Budapest.

The decision announced at a Nato ministerial conference in Budapest follows an action call by the United Nations Security Council. Other countries are to cooperate. The number of recorded pirate attacks in the gulf has doubled this year to 60, leading to a tenfold increase in insurance premiums.

News of the possible NATO military intervention coincided with a warning by the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London that some 16,000 merchant vessels a year crossing the gulf might otherwise be diverted by the escalating danger.

“Shipping could be forced to avoid the Gulf of Aden/Suez Canal and divert around the Cape of Good Hope,” concludes the briefing paper (Piracy in Somalia: Threatening Global Trade, Feeding Local Wars, Chatham House, London, October 2008). “This would add considerably to the costs of manufactured goods and oil from Asia and the Middle East… at a time of high inflationary pressures.”

It adds that the escalating calibre of weaponry used by the pirates has also increased the danger of environmental catastrophes in the event of attacks on passing oil tankers.