The European Union is concerned with the effect of Somali-based piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean. Somali piracy is characterised by criminals taking control of vessels transiting the High Risk Areas in the Region and extorting ransom money for the crew, the vessel and cargo; this bearing all features of organised crime. Crews held hostage by pirates often face a prolonged period of captivity, the average being 5 months (145 days) but some hostages have been held for more than two years and eight months (1001 days). Moreover, piracy impacts on international trade and maritime security and on the economic activities and security of countries in the region.
As a result, and as part of the Comprehensive Approach to Somalia, in December 2008 the EU launched the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia – Operation Atalanta within the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and in accordance with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and International Law in response to the rising levels of piracy and armed robbery off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean
Operation Atalanta is the European Union’s counter-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia.
Under the EU Council Joint Action, which is based on various UN resolutions, EU NAVFOR’s mandate is to conduct:
- The protection of World Food Programme (WFP) vessels delivering aid to displaced persons in Somalia, and the protection of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) shipping.
- The deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Somali coast.
- The protection of vulnerable shipping off the Somali coast on a case by case basis.
- In addition, the EU NAVFOR also contributes to the monitoring of fishing activities off the coast of Somalia.
On 23 March 2012 the Council of the EU extended the Mandate of Operation Atalanta until December 2014. At the same time, the Council also extended the Area of Operation to include Somali coastal territory and internal waters.
Data collated since 2008 demonstrates that EU NAVFOR, in co-operation with her counter-piracy partners, has become highly effective in preventing attacks before they happen.
Intelligence lead operations, a robust and proactive stance, as well as the continued effort to impress upon industry and the merchant community the importance of self-protection measures has decreased the success rate of those attacks which are mounted.
The number of successful pirate attacks has fallen. Pirates captured 47 vessels and their crews in 2010. By 2011 the number had reduced but 25 vessels were still held by pirates. In December 2012 EU NAVFOR registered four ships being captured. Since 2011 the number of hostages dropped from up to 680 to 114 in December 2012.
Since the launch of the operation in 2008, EU NAVFOR – Operation Atalanta has:
- Had a 100% success rate providing protection to WFP vessels delivering food to the Somali people and to AMISOM shipments critical to the success of the AU operation in Somalia.
- Ensured the protection of other vulnerable shipping within the IRTC and the High Risk Area.
- Contributed to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia.
- Transferred suspected pirates to competent authorities with a view to their prosecution and conviction as a result of its close cooperation with regional governments such as those of The Republic of the Seychelles and Kenya.
Moreover, EU NAVFOR has conducted and supported numerous Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) rescue missions in the area; helping local, regional and international trading and fishing vessels in distress.
Where and how does EU Naval Force operate?
EU NAVFOR operates in an Area of Operation covering the Southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and a large part of the Indian Ocean, including the Seychelles. The Area of Operation also includes the Somali coastal territory as well as its territorial and internal waters. This represents an area of about 2,000,000 square nautical miles (approximately 3,700,000 square kilometres). This is an area 1.5 times the size of mainland Europe.
Within the Area of Operation, EU NAVFOR assets conduct tasks in accordance with the Mandate. Close co-operation with WFP and AMISOM ensures that no vessel transporting humanitarian aid or logistics for the African Union mission will travel unprotected into Somalia.
Warships also conduct patrols in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
Furthermore, warships and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) conduct reconnaissance and surveillance operations. Warships and their boarding teams routinely conduct visual or physical checks of vessels transiting the High Risk Area.
These checks, or “friendly approaches” are conducted to gather information on piracy, gain a better understanding of the maritime community off the Horn of Africa by speaking with the crews of fishing and trading vessels in the region, and to make Masters aware of the Best Management Practices for Protection against Somali Based Piracy (BMP), i.e. self-protection measures against pirates.
A significant activity of EU NAVFOR is the location and apprehension of pirate action groups (PAGs) following sighting reports by merchant vessels and MPRAs.
When EU NAVFOR assets locate suspicious vessels, and investigation confirms the suspicion, the PAG will be disrupted. This means action will be taken in order to render a suspected PAG incapable of further pirate operations. Suspected pirates may be detained with the aim to transfer them to competent authorities to be prosecuted. Their equipment is often confiscated for evidence. Disruption of pirate logistics has also been carried out on the Somali coastline as part of a focused and deliberate operation.
EU NAVFOR warships have regularly come to the aid of vessels in distress; either because of a pirate attack or because the vessel is otherwise in an emergency situation.
EU NAVFOR assets also support the UN’s programmes of monitor fishing activity in the area.
Who contributes to Operation Atalanta?
Participation in EU NAVFOR goes beyond EU Member States. Norway was the first non-EU country to contribute to the Operation with one warship in 2009. Furthermore, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine have provided staff officers to the Operation Headquarters (OHQ) and Force Headquarters (FHQ).
Means of contributing to EU NAVFOR:
- Navy vessels (surface combat vessels and auxiliary ships, including embarked helicopters).
- Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA).
- Vessel Protection Detachment (VPD) teams.
- Provision of military and civilian staff to work at the OHQ in Northwood, United Kingdom , or onboard units.
The composition of EU NAVFOR changes constantly due to the frequent rotation of units and varies according to the Monsoon seasons in the Indian Ocean. However, it typically comprises of approximately 1200 personnel, 4 – 7 Surface Combat Vessels and 2 – 4 Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft. For currently deployed units, please see “Deployed Units“.
In addition to EU NAVFOR units, a considerable international military maritime presence is deployed in the area, comprising the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), NATO and also independent national units such as China, India, Japan, Russia and others – all committed to Counter-Piracy (CP), but with varying Mandates and Mission Objectives.
EU NAVFOR has close liaison with these forces to de-conflict and coordinate operations in time and space in the area of operation.
How is the EU Naval Force financed?
Military assets and personnel are provided by the contributing states with the running costs and personnel costs being met on a national basis. In addition, there is a common budget to cover extra costs that are incremental to the Operation (such as travel on behalf of the Operation, specific communication costs and the costs of medical evacuation). This budget is agreed and monitored by the Athena Committee of Member States on an annual basis.
The agreed budget for EU NAVFOR amounted to EUR 8.4 million in 2010, EUR 8.05 million in 2011 and EUR 8.3 million in 2012. A budget of EUR 14.9 million is provided for the common costs of the mandate until December 2014.
What is Operation Atalanta’s legal basis?
EU NAVFOR is based on Decisions by the Council of the European Union in accordance with relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and International Law.
Detention of Suspected Pirates
In the Area of Operation, EU NAVFOR units can arrest, detain and transfer persons suspected of intending to commit, committing or having committed acts of piracy or armed robbery at sea.
EU NAVFOR assets can seize vessels of suspected pirates or armed robbers, vessels captured by an act of piracy or armed robbery at sea, and such vessels which are in the hands of the pirates or armed robbers, as well as the property on board.
The suspects can be prosecuted by an EU Member State, by Regional States or any other Third States which the EU has agreements with, and who wish to exercise its jurisdiction over the suspected pirates or armed robbers. Suspected pirates may not be transferred to a Third State unless conditions relevant to International Law, notably International Law on Human Rights, are met.
It is the EU’s and EU NAVFOR’s policy to always seek a legal finish where possible.
Political control, strategic direction and command structure
The Political and Security Committee (PSC) exercises the political control and strategic direction of the EU military operation, under the authority of the Council of the European Union and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP). The Operation Commander of the EU NAVFOR reports directly to the PSC.
The European Union Military Committee (EUMC) is the forum for military consultation and cooperation between the EU Member States in the field of conflict prevention and crisis management. It provides the PSC with advice and recommendations on military matters. The EUMC monitors the proper execution of Operation Atalanta conducted under the responsibility of the Operation Commander (OpCdr). The Chairman of the EUMC acts as the primary point of contact for the OpCdr.
Directly attached to the Secretary-General/High Representative, the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) contributes to the military aspects of the ESDP and provides support, upon the request of the Secretary-General/High Representative or the Political and Security Committee (PSC), for Operation Atalanta. The EUMS also conducts strategic analysis in liaison with the OpCdr.
The OpCdr commands the Operation from the OHQ at Northwood, United Kingdom. There he plans and conducts the Operation in conjunction with the political and military authorities of the European Union. The Deputy Operation Commander (DCOM) exercises command in absence of the OpCdr.
The Force Commander (FCdr) exercises command and control of all military forces in the Area of Operation from the Force Headquarters (FHQ) afloat on a flagship contributed by Members States. He is responsible for planning, orchestration and execution of tactical military activities, and contributes to the Operational Planning taking place in the OHQ.
The EU Comprehensive Approach against piracy in the Horn of Africa
Piracy in the Region has been a threat to security, international shipping and development since the mid-2000s. Somali-based piracy is characterised by extorting ransom money for the vessel and the crew and bears all features of organised crime. Piracy is a complex issue that can only be overcome by combining political and diplomatic efforts with military and legal action, development assistance and strong international coordination. With all these tools at its disposal, the EU is in a unique position to contribute to international efforts.
EU NAVFOR is one part of the EU’s “Comprehensive Approach”, tackling both current symptoms and root causes of the problem. To that end, other CSDP Missions in region include:
EUCAP NESTOR is a European regional capacity building mission aimed at enhancing the maritime capacities of initially three to five countries in the Horn of Africa and the Western Indian Ocean.
EU Training Mission Somalia
The EU Training Mission Somalia (EUTM Somalia) is an EU military training mission which aims to strengthen the Somali National Government (SNG) and the Institutions of Somalia, by providing military training to members of the Somali National Armed Force (SNAF).
Together, EU NAVFOR, EUCAP NESTOR and EUTM form a coherent, integrated CSDP package supporting the EU’s Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa.
The EU’s multi-facetted engagement in the Horn of Africa is guided by the “Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa”. It defines five priorities for EU action: building robust and accountable political structures; contributing to conflict resolution and prevention; mitigating security threats emanating from the region; promoting economic growth, and supporting regional economic cooperation.
To coordinate these efforts, since 1 January 2012, the EU appointed a Special Representative to the Horn of Africa. He was tasked to initially focus on Somalia and the regional dimensions of the conflict there, as well as on piracy, which has its root causes in the instability of Somalia.
Judicial international cooperation to end impunity
Prosecution of piracy suspects are key component of the overall fight against piracy.
The EU is assisting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in their work to establish sufficient conditions to allow fair and efficient piracy trials in Somalia. The EU is the largest contributor to the UNODC counter-piracy programme. In the short term, transfers for trial from EU NAVFOR ships remain necessary to put an end to impunity in the Indian Ocean.