VLADIVOSTOK: A new task force from Russia’s Pacific Fleet has arrived in the Gulf of Aden to fight piracy off the Somali coast, a fleet spokesman said on Thursday.

The task force, comprising the Admiral Tributs destroyer with two helicopters, a salvage tug, a tanker, and a naval infantry unit, will escort commercial ships, conduct aerial reconnaissance, and search for suspected pirate vessels.

“The task force arrived in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday and will soon start to form a convoy of commercial ships to be escorted to a secure shipping lane,” Capt. 1st Rank Roman Martov said.

The Admiral Tributs is an Udaloy-class missile destroyer, armed with anti-ship missiles, 30-mm and 100-mm guns, and Ka-27 Helix helicopters

Around 35 warships from the navies of 16 countries are currently deployed off Somalia’s coast to counter frequent pirate attacks on key trade routes.

The Russian Navy joined international anti-piracy efforts off Somali coast in October 2008.

Three Russian warships have so far participated in the mission – the Baltic Fleet’s Neustrashimy (Fearless) frigate, and the Pacific Fleet’s Admiral Vinogradov and Admiral Panteleyev destroyers.

A total of 126 vessels have been attacked with 44 of them captured since the start of the year in the region. Somali pirates are currently holding around 270 hostages on at least 16 vessels.

According to the United Nations, Somali pirates collected $150 million in ransom payments from ship owners last year, while overall losses from piracy were estimated at $13-16 billion, including the soaring cost of insurance and protection for vessels, as well as sending ships on longer routes to avoid high-risk areas.