European Union Election Observation Mission
El Salvador 2018


10/09/2021 - 18:37

The EU launched Operation Atalanta, named after the mythological Greek huntress, in December 2008 as a collective initiative of its Member States in support of UN Security Council Resolutions to fight Somali piracy at source, when the crisis was hitting its peak. Nowadays, piracy, although largely suppressed, has not yet been eradicated. Criminal networks associated with piracy have diversified their activities and reoriented their activities towards other maritime crimes, such as the illicit trade of weapons and human trafficking. However, there is no room for complacency. The last mayor attacks in 2018 and 2019 occurred more than 240 nautical miles – some 500 kilometres – off the Somali coast, and were carefully planned and launched deliberately. It is understood that criminal networks involved in piracy have diversified their activities, seeing former pirate kingpins involved in smuggling and other illicit activities.

Major Victor Gallardo Coca, Spokesperson and Media Chief takes a closer look at EU NAVFOR Operation ATALANTA

Since 2008, EU NAVFOR has become an internationally respected part of the broader regional maritime security architecture, working hand-in-glove with national and multi- national military partners to uphold the freedom of navigation. In this regard, the Cooperation Concept of Operation ATALANTA (COCOA) is the best framework for sharing information with our partners, such as the Combined Maritime Forces and European-led Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (currently deployed as part of Op. AGENOR), and coordinating efforts to protect such a vast area of operations.

As a tool of EU’s joint Foreign and Security Policy, EU NAVFOR represents more than just ships. It is a network of military, civil and diplomatic capability that certainly includes maritime patrol aircraft and on-board vessel protection detachments, but which also links into legal, political, commercial and development objectives whilst taking into account Gender and Human Rights perspectives into the operation.

  • Under EU NAVFOR protection, nearly 77.000 metric tons of WFP humanitarian aid have been escorted safely into Somali ports, using a combination of both, EU and partner military assets in support of the Somali population. In March 2020, EU NAVFOR signed a Memorandum of Understanding with WFP to extend cooperation and allow for a closer coordination in other areas in the region.
  • Under its ‘legal finish’ policy, 171 suspected pirates have been arrested by EU NAVFOR and transferred into regional justice systems for prosecution. This ‘legal finish’ has proved a powerful deterrent effect, which still forms one of the most important building blocks in what has informally been termed the ‘ATALANTA acquis’ with 145 successful convictions thus far.
  • The operation’s Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) has registered hundreds of thousands of commercial vessels transiting the contested waters of the Horn of Aden since 2008, in order to assess vessel vulnerability and afford appropriate protection from piracy and other security threats.
  • Local maritime capacity-building efforts performed by EU NAVFOR in support of security and development have seen training sessions organised with African coastguard, port security and military forces in fields as varied as harbour security to forensic evidence protection.

The EU Naval Force is part of the EU’s Integrated Approach and supports its Common Security and Defence Policy sister missions, EUCAP Somalia and EUTM-Somalia on the ground in their efforts to support Somalia in enhancing security and stability across the country. Specific training has been provided to Somali maritime security actors and regular interactions at all levels are aimed to increase situational awareness and ensure the commonality of approach.

In order to support the setup of a regional maritime security architecture, EU NAVFOR works closely with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and has contributed to the training and education of regional coordination and information fusion centres, military and law enforcement forces, and their legal and judicial systems across the region. It also cooperates closely with the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

Hence, the partnership developed with the commercial shipping industry remains crucial. EU NAVFOR is a signatory to the Best Management Practices handbook (BMP5), advising seafarers and shipping companies on precautions and self-defence measures, when transiting the High Risk Area. In addition, through MSCHOA’s promulgation of quarterly Industry-Releasable Threat Assessments (IRTAs) and ad hoc Industry-Releasable Threat Bulletins (IRTBs) based upon expertise from EU NAVFOR and CMF, the shipping industry receives military graded information on attacks – piracy and others – which occur in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

In conclusion, EU NAVFOR ATALANTA has proven to be a key tool for the European Union in the Western Indian Ocean to maintain appropriate levels of security at sea, off the coast of Somalia, it up holds the freedom of navigation, supports the EU Integrated Approach to foster Somalia's development and is a strategic partner for other maritime security actors in the huge area of operations. Despite the diversification of criminal networks, changing their roots in search of a more complex variety of targets, not to mention piracy, EU NAVFOR is able to adapt and confront them, through the framework of its new mandate.

It is appropriate however that the final word on this Operation comes from Vice-Adm Nuñez Torrente, the Operational Commander of EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta,

Now, as we continue to fight piracy and protect World Food Program ships and other vulnerable vessels in the area of operations, which remains our core tasks, we are also beginning to contribute to the fight against other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking and weapons smuggling to Somalia, in which these piracy networks are involved. All this in order to increase maritime security in this vital region