Indian Ocean Commission

Happy Birthday Atalanta - 10 years fighting Piracy!

08/12/2018 - 08:00

Ten years ago, in December 2008 a piracy crisis off the coast of Somalia was close to its height. There were frequent attacks on container ships and boats carrying food aid for the country. The EU took its responsibility. For the first time in history an EU naval mission was deployed to protect vital shipping lanes and importantly the delivery of aid. Since then, humanitarian deliveries have reached the intended ports and security of commercial sea lanes drastically improved.


In 2008, Somali pirates were the scourge of international shipping, and ships’ crews transiting the region genuinely feared for their lives. Violent criminal groups operating from the Somali shore seized increasing numbers of vessels and held crews to ransom.  Injuries to mariners were commonplace, with some tragically resulting in fatalities.  International commerce was disrupted, shipping costs were rising, and humanitarian aid did not reach those in dire need. For the EU as the world's leading trading bloc and also the leading donor of humanitarian aid much was at stake.

The EU therefore launched in December 2008 its counter-piracy operation,  EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR in the Western Indian Ocean also known as Operation ATALANTA).  Naval and aviation assets of individual Member States were pulled together in record time to work under the EU flag. At the same time close cooperation and coordination with multiple partners, civilian and military, already active in the region helped tremendously in achieving rapid results.

EU NAVFOR also operates in close coordination with a number of other EU instruments deployed onshore such EU Training Mission (EUTM) Somalia, EUCAP Somalia and EU Delegation to Somalia to assist in the gradual build-up of Somalia's own capacity to ensure security, development aid or diplomacy. This is called the EU's "integrated approach". The positive impact of EU NAVFOR and its seamless work with other EU instruments and non-EU partners looks impressive as reflected in the steeply declining economic costs of Somali piracy:

Moreover, safe delivery of humanitarian aid has become the norm again. More than 1.8 million tonnes of humanitarian aid to Somali ports have been shipped since EU NAVFOR started its operations, thus providing a critical lifeline for a country where some 50% of the population still face food insecurity.

EU NAVFOR stands as a highly effective operation and example of the practical results that can be achieved under the EU's Common Security & Defence Policy (CSDP). There are currently 15 other EU CSDP missions and operations being conducted under this policy in various parts of the world contributing to conflict prevention, peace security.


Thanks to the efforts of EU NAVFOR and its international partners, the impact of Somali piracy today is minimal - though shipping must continue to take precautions. The scale of positive change that has taken place is significant. We celebrate today ten years of operation together with the men and women who have served with great dedication and commitment under the EU flag.


Happy Birthday ATALANTA!