NAPLES, Italy — NATO members voted Wednesday to extend until December 2012 the alliance’s mandate to aid in combating piracy, a NATO official said. The mandate was slated to expire in August.

NATO joins two other organized military task forces, and a number of nations that independently contribute ships, to thwart incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa near the Somali Basin.

On Friday, Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 will take over missions from Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 for the four-month assignment. The change will increase NATO’s contribution from four ships to five ships, the NATO official said.

NATO’s decision comes on the heels of the European naval forces announcement to disrupt pirate operations by hunting down and sinking pirates’ supply ships, or “mother ships,” rather than simply trying to defend cargo ships as they transit through the area.

The Somali pirates’ “mother ships” usually are loaded with ammunition, fuel and food, which allows them to operate farther out to sea and attack vessels on heavily used shipping routes.

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