The EU has agreed to launch an anti-piracy naval operation off the coast of Somalia involving ships and aircraft from several nations.

The mission, the first naval crisis-management operation ever mounted by the Union, will initially involve three naval vessels, from Greece, Britain and France, and two maritime surveillance aircraft.

The naval force will be joined by a fourth ship from Germany once the mission is approved by the German parliament, which is expected to happen later this month.

The two maritime surveillance aircraft will be provided by France and Spain

The area includes one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, the Gulf of Aden, and has seen almost 100 pirate attacks this year.

Separately, a report today from US-based rights group Human Rights Watch says that the current unstable political climate has helped foment piracy.

HRW said Somalia is a shattered nation, the most dangerous place on earth for aid workers and the scene of horrific abuses by combatants on all sides.

The HRW report on war crimes in Somalia this year was the latest in a chorus of appeals for international action to stem the chaos.

In anarchy since 1991, Somalia is now one of the world's worst, and most neglected, humanitarian crises.