Operation ATALANTA receives reinforcements of the shipping industry ( AZAMARA CRUISE)

Mar 29, 2021 - 10:09
Master mariner Captain Toledo and reserve officer of the Spanish Navy has been posted in the EU NAVFOR Somalia Joint Operations Centre (JOC) for the last four months. In an effort to explore further synergies with the shipping industry. It is a unique opportunity to share experiences and better understand the needs and concerns of the sector. We wanted to know what it is like to see maritime security from a different angle.

Can you tell us about your personal experiences in the shipping industry?

Since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a sailor and specialize in the cruise ship sector to eventually command one of them. I have always enjoyed my work, with all its advantages and inconveniences. It has always been my true calling in life. This profession is very technical and, at the same time, very dynamic, which has given me the opportunity to travel and discover many different parts of the world and interact with all sorts of different cultures and people. It has been a very enriching experience from a personal point of view.

What motivated you to join the Armed Forces as a volunteer reservist?

Maybe I should have been more specific, when I said before that my vocation had always been to become a seaman. I have always been drawn to join either the naval forces or the merchant navy. But there has always been a feeling of internal dividedness and quite frankly, I couldn’t say what tipped the scale and made me choose the merchant navy. To join the naval forces remained a life-long aspiration of mine, which, finally, became a reality, when I seized the opportunity to register as a reserve officer.

What have your experiences been, so far? Do you feel part of the Staff? What is it like to be a Watchkeeper in the Joint Operation Centre of the European Union Naval Force Somalia?

Absolutely, I feel fully integrated in the Staff since the first day I set foot in the OHQ. I won’t name all my colleagues one by one. For me, it is the team with its extraordinary people and the work atmosphere is exceptional that makes you feel part of the operation. About your second question, it is a posting with a lot of responsibility in a real operation. Although this is not new to me, being in the Joint Operation Centre is an interesting experience - even exiting, because you know that what you are seeing on your screens is real and happening in real-time. When things go smoothly, you watch the traffic, follow the units and the situation in the Area of Operations, you do your paperwork, draft the planning documents, etc. But when something happens, you know you have to react and provide support and activate all procedures to resolve the situation. It is then, you realise that you are part of a large and complex mission and that your work really makes a difference. I think we are not aware, most of  the time, of how important maritime traffic is and that most part of the things we use or eat everyday come from overseas. The route along the Horn of Africa is an essential seaway for Europe and the whole world, as we are all interconnected. Therefore it is an honor and privilege to contribute what I can to this operation.

Given your long professional experience in the shipping sector, what is your opinion on Operation ATALANTA, now that you know it from the inside? What can a reserve officer like you provide to the operation?

Not many people in the non-military world know just how important this operation is for our daily lives. Securing the transit of merchant vessels is essential and very complex. It is interesting to see how people react. I think my profile fits the demands of the operation and I feel quite at home here. To know the shipping industry from both perspectives, the military and the civilian side, is very enriching. When we deal with a specific situation in the Joint Operation Centre, we see it from a military perspective. Given my experience as a civilian ship captain, I can better understand the implications and difficulties, even understand what the ship's captain must be thinking or feeling in a situation of distress. Knowing both sides can be an advantage, when assessing the situation and taking decisions to resolve the situation.

What impact do you think Operation Atalanta has had on the shipping industry?

The true changes came with piracy in its beginnings and the actions and measures taken to fight it and secure the safe passage of vessels. Since then, Operation Atalanta has contributed substantially to improve the situation and tackle the problem. But there is still a lot to be done with insurance premiums still rising. It is a fact that the safety of goods and crews has increased considerably and attacks have practically gone towards zero reducing the high-risk-areas and inherent costs systematically. There is a growing feeling of safety, knowing that ATALANTA is there, if needed.

Can you describe what the captain of a merchant vessel was feeling, when crossing Somali waters and the Gulf of Aden in 2012? Do you think the situation has improved? 

The feeling is very hard to explain. When you are responsible for the goods on the ship, worth millions of dollars, the people on the ship, their lives, your own included, and you feel that you have no means to defend yourself, it is hard to put these concerns and all the feelings that come with it aside. Today, things are different. We now have security onboard, although limited, but we have them. And we are also more confident in the Operation, because we know they are there to assist in an emergency. There are many procedures in place today to raise the alarm and trigger action protocols to suppress a possible attack. All these aspects make you feel safer.

Do you think Operation ATALANTA is still relevant?

Absolutely. The solution to the piracy problem and other new threats in the region is not the EU Naval Force, unfortunately. The solution lies in the stabilisation and development of the neighbouring countries with the efforts and the support of the international community. There are initiatives in place, but it is not easy and it is a very long process. Operation ATALANTA is just one of these initiatives. To put it simple: when crime levels rise in an underprivileged neighborhood, police presence will increase in order to reduce crime levels and put an end to the current situation. But when you don’t address the root causes, in this case, lack of opportunity, crime will reemerge immediately or even increase. Until the fundamental issues in the countries at the Horn of Africa are not resolved, the presence of Operation ATALANTA is necessary. Even if piracy seems to be under control. The threat remains.

Would you consider coming back to EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation ATALANTA?

Definitely! I would love to come back and continue learning and contributing to the mission. I would love to share more of my experiences with this exceptional team. I hope there will be other opportunities to do so and that we can find a time window that fits our schedules. Of course, I would come back to the OHQ!

Watch the whole interview on our YouTube Channel📺