In late 2020, Operation ATALANTA was extended towards December 2022 and the mandate adjusted to reflect its new responsibilities. EU Member States decided that the Operation should maintain its core mission to protect vessels of the World Food Programme (WFP) and other vulnerable shipping and deter, prevent and repress piracy and armed robbery at sea. As a secondary task, Operation ATALANTA monitors fishing activities off the Horn of Africa and Western Indian Ocean and contributes to the monitoring of weapons and drug trafficking, illicit charcoal trade and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

With Atalanta being an integral part of the EU´s approach to the Horn of Africa and Somalia, the Operation supports its sister missions EUCAP-Somalia and EUTM-Somalia, maintains close linkages with EU representations across the area and contributes to the implementation of EU programmes such as MASE or the Red Sea Project; aimed to enhance the regional maritime security architecture.


In late 2008, the Council of the European Union adopted Joint Action 2008/851/CFSP, based on various UN resolutions, to establish the executive EU military maritime operation for Somalia – Operation ATALANTA and contribute to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. Over time, the mandate of EU NAVFOR has been adapted to reflect the evolving situation at sea and the increased presence of the International Community in Somalia in order to support initiatives and enable a long-lasting solution to the Somali piracy problem.

On the 1st of January 2021, Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/2188 prolonged the existing mandate of Operation ATALANTA for another two years until December 2022, outlining that ATALANTA shall continue to:

  • Protect vessels of the World Food Programme and other vulnerable vessels
  • Deter, prevent and repress piracy and armed robbery at sea.

It also establishes the following secondary tasks:

  • Monitor fishing activities off the coast of Somalia
  • Monitor arms and drug trafficking, illicit charcoal trade and illegal, unreported and unregulated Fishing
  • Contribute to the enforcement of the weapons embargo on Somalia and counter drug trafficking
  • Foster the EU Integrated Approach to Somalia and the Horn of Africa through cooperation with other sister missions, in particular, EUTM Somalia and EUCAP Somalia
  • Support the regional Maritime Security Architecture and cooperate with regional actors and missions, such as the Regional Operations Coordination Centre, the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre, the Combined Maritime Forces or Operation AGENOR.

Data collated since 2008 demonstrate that EU NAVFOR, in co-operation with her counter-piracy partners, has become highly effective in preventing attacks before they happen.

Taken together, intelligence-led operations, a robust and proactive stance, as well as the continued effort to impress upon the maritime industry and the merchant community the importance of self-protection measures, have decreased the success rate of those attacks which are mounted.

At the height of Somali piracy in January 2011, 736 hostages and 32 ships were being held by pirates. Since its launch in 2008 as first EU naval operation, EU NAVFOR Somalia:

  • Holds a 100% success rate in protecting WFP vessels delivering humanitarian aid to internally displaced and refugees in Somalia;
  • Ensures the protection of vulnerable vessels within the Area of Operations;
  • Deters, prevents and represses acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia;
  • Cooperates and responds to illicit maritime flows, including illicit trade financing terrorism;
  • Supports the EU Integrated Approach for Somalia and the Horn of Africa together with its two EU sister missions, EUCAP Somalia and EU TM Somalia, the EU Delegation to Somalia and EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa;
  • Acts as a fundamental tool in the EU’s Naval Diplomacy for the Indo-Pacific;
  • Cooperates and supports all international organisations, naval forces and independent deployers present in the Area of Operations, as CMF and EMASOH;

Provides a unique legal framework to transfer pirates to regional states for their prosecution.

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 Operations covering the Southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and a large part of the Indian Ocean, including the Seychelles, Mauritius and Comoros. The Area of Operations also includes the Somali coastal territory, as well as its territorial and internal waters. This represents an area of about 4,700,000 square nautical miles (approximately 16,121,000 square kilometres).

Within the Area of Operations, EU NAVFOR units conduct tasks in accordance with the Mandate. Close co-operation with WFP ensures that no vessel transporting humanitarian aid will travel unprotected along the Somali coastline.

EU NAVFOR 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 Area of Operations (AOO).

Meetings with local seafarers, or ‘friendly approaches’, are conducted to gather a better understanding of maritime practices by talking with the crews of fishing and trading vessels in the region and to make ships’ masters aware of the Best Management Practices (BMP) for protection against Somali-based piracy, i.e. self-protection measures.

The main objective of EU NAVFOR is the deterrence and disruption of acts of piracy and armed robbery on the high seas. Warships apprehend suspected pirates following intelligence reports of pirate activity or sightings by merchant vessels and MPRAs.

When EU NAVFOR assets locate suspicious vessels, and further investigation confirms the suspicion, the pirate groups will be disrupted. This means action will be taken in order to render a suspected group incapable of further pirate operations. Suspected pirates may be detained with the aim to transfer them to competent national authorities for prosecution. Their equipment is often confiscated for evidence purposes.

In addition, EU NAVFOR warships 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 at sea.

Who contributes to Operation Atalanta?

Participation in EU NAVFOR goes beyond the EU Member States. Norway was the first non-EU country to contribute to the Operation, with a warship in 2009. Thereafter, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine have provided staff officers to the Operational Headquarters (OHQ) and Force Headquarters (FHQ). Ukraine contributed a warship early in 2014, and New Zealand contributed an MPRA asset later the same year.

Means of contributing to EU NAVFOR:

  • Navy vessels (surface combat vessels and auxiliary ships, including embarked helicopters)
  • Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA)
  • Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)
  • Autonomous Vessel Protection Detachment (AVPD) teams
  • Provision of military and civilian staff to work at the OHQ in Rota, Spain or onboard Units
  • Provision of military staff to work at the MSCHOA in Brest, France

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 approximately 600 personnel, 1–3 Surface Combat Vessels and 1-2 MPRA. For the number of units currently deployed, please see “Deployed Assets“.

In addition to EU NAVFOR units, a considerable international military maritime presence is deployed in the area, comprising the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and independent national units from countries such as China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and others – all committed to counter-piracy, but with varying mandates and mission objectives.

EU NAVFOR maintains a close liaison with these forces to de-conflict and coordinate activities within the Area of Operations.

How is the EU Naval Force financed?

Military assets and personnel are provided by the contributing states, with the associated running costs and personnel costs being met on a national basis. In addition, there is a common budget to cover extra costs that are incidental to the Operation (such as travel on behalf of the Operation, specific IT and 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.

For 2021 the budget will be 4.4 million Euros for the common costs of the mandate.

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 Operations, 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 by any other Third States with which the EU has agreements, and which wishes to exercise its jurisdiction over the suspected pirates. Suspected pirates may not be transferred to a Third State unless conditions relevant to International Law, notably International Law on Human Rights, are met.

Political control, strategic direction and command structure

The European Union’s Political and Security Committee (PSC) exercises political control and strategic direction of this first EU maritime 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), Her Excellency Josep Borrell Fontelles. The Operation Commander (Op Comd) of the EU NAVFOR reports directly to the PSC.

The European Union Military Committee (EUMC) is the forum for military consultation and co-operation 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 authority of the Op Comd. The Chairman of the EUMC acts as the primary point of contact for the Op Comd.

Directly attached to the Secretary-General/High Representative, the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) contributes to the military aspects of the CSDP and provides support, upon the request of the Secretary-General/High Representative or the PSC, for Operation ATALANTA. The EUMS also conducts strategic analysis in liaison with the Op Comd.

The Op Comd commands EU NAVFOR from the OHQ at Rota, Cadiz (Spain). 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 the absence of the Op Comd.

The Force Commander (FCdr) exercises command and control of all military forces in the Area of Operations from the Force Headquarters (FHQ) afloat on a flagship contributed by a Member State. He is responsible for the planning, orchestration and execution of tactical military activities, and contributes to the Operational Planning taking place in the OHQ.

The EU Integrated Approach against piracy in the Horn of Africa

Somali-based piracy is a complex issue that can only ultimately 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 “Integrated Approach”, tackling both current symptoms and root causes of the problem. To that end, other CSDP Missions in the region include: 


EUCAP Somalia:

EUCAP Somalia is a civilian mission augmented with military expertise designed to support regional maritime capacity-building. It contributes to the establishment and capacity building of maritime civilian law enforcement capability in Somalia, including Somaliland.


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 Forces (SNAF).

Together, EU NAVFOR, EUCAP Somalia and EUTM Somalia form a coherent, integrated CSDP package supporting the EU’s Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa.


Strategic Framework

The EU’s multi-facetted engagement in the Horn of Africa is guided by its “Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa”. This 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 co-operation

To coordinate these efforts, the EU appointed a Special Representative to the Horn of Africa on 1 January 2012. He was tasked to focus on Somalia and the regional dimensions of instability in the country, as well as on piracy, which has its root causes in the instability of Somalia.


Judicial international cooperation to end impunity

The prosecution of piracy suspects is a 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. Currently, transfers for trial from EU NAVFOR ships to the Member States or the Regional States remains necessary to put an end to the pirates’ legal impunity in the Indian Ocean.

The EU is the largest financial contributor to the UNODC counter-piracy programme. A joint EU/UNODC programme supporting the justice systems of Kenya, the Seychelles and Mauritius was launched to provide practical assistance to cope with the extra demands associated with the prosecution and detention of piracy suspects.


Coordinated criminal investigation against pirates

Piracy has to be understood as organised criminal activity occurring at sea. It is organised on land, with kidnapping crews and ships for ransom as the business model. In order to disrupt the underlying business model – including the tracking and disruption of the financial flows, it is vital to have a negative impact on the “risk/reward” balance for those who benefit most from piracy. Therefore, EU NAVFOR provides INTERPOL with relevant information on Somali-based piracy. Moreover, the EU is actively supporting the establishment of a co-operation mechanism among the prosecutors of the countries concerned.