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Israel opened on Sunday a naval center for the search and rescue of ships attacked by pirates and other hostile groups at sea.

The Rescue Coordination Center is a division of the Shipping and Ports Authority; its opening came amid increased awareness of maritime threats, following a spate of attacks by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

"The center will give an initial response and aid to maritime incidents, including search and rescue activities for ships that have encountered difficulties at sea, as well as incidents related to protecting the environment against pollution," said Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud).

The center will deal with emergencies that occur up to a distance of 40 kilometers off the coast of Israel in the Mediterranean, and 20 kilometers in the Red Sea. Other countries such as France, Spain and Turkey operate similar centers.

The government invested about four million shekels in the establishment of the center, which will be manned by officers in Israel's merchant navy and former officers in the Israel Navy.