OpCdr presentation on EU NAVFOR ATALANTA to the Chiefs of Defence of the EU Member States
Thus, one of the main elements that the OpCdr brought to the EUMC was the Operation's reliability in preserving the safety of navigation of all ships, which has granted EU NAVFOR the confidence of the maritime community and shipping industry.
In addition, the OpCdr highlighted that Atalanta is now facing new challenges, precisely due to its constant ability to adapt to new scenarios. In this regard, in the last few months, after the activation of the Secondary Counter Narcotics Executive Task by the PSC last February, it has become evident that, without losing Atalanta’s essence as anti-piracy operation, the Operation is in the path to become a comprehensive Maritime Security Provider in the Indian Ocean.
The 8 anti-drug operations that conducted to more than 12.5 tons of narcotics seized during the month of April are the living proof of the limitless possibilities of the Operation and its capacity to grow.
This same visit to Brussels served to the OpCdr to convey to the Military Representatives of the Autonomous Vessel Protection Detachment contributing nations (Croatia, Montenegro, Lithuania and Serbia) Atalanta’s gratitude for their continuous, dedicated and reliable contribution to the Operation by ways of the protection of WFP vessels and highly committed officers to the OHQ. These 4 encounters also served to explain how Atalanta is still affected by the non-renewal of UNSCR 2608 (2021). At present, the AVPD presence would only be allowed outside Somali Territorial Waters and the delivery of food cargos and first need items would depend on Somali units taking over the escorts once the vessels cross into territorial waters. WFP vessels have turned to privately contracted armed security personnel (Private Assistance Security Teams – PAST) but we have the conviction that this decision will be immediately reversed in case the EEAS manages to obtain from the Somali Government an authorization to resume the AVPD’s activities.
OpCdr meeting with Croatian, Montenegrin, Lithuanian and Serbian MILREP
In this particular, Atalanta is confident on the good offices of the EEAS before the Somali authorities, furthermore after the conversation of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy with the newly elected President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, in which the Somali Head of State was receptive to Mr. Borrell’s request “to extend a permanent invitation to Atalanta to operate in Somalia’s territorial sea”.
Atalanta remains confident that this permanent invitation, under the legal form that is deemed suitable in International Law, will produce its fruits in the short-term and will respond to the absolute priority that Atalanta has set in the return of the AVPD’s to Somali territorial waters with the final aim of protecting the WFP vessels and securing the delivery of food and first necessity items to populations in need.
Along with the announced cease-fire in Yemen, Atalanta welcomes any step towards the pacification and stabilization of the region and the presence of a strong and stable new Government in Somalia is of paramount importance to this purpose.
Additionally, Atalanta is embedded in all the future strategic guidelines that the EU is setting in place to face the complexity of the current international scenario. Atalanta has been called to become one of the main pillars of the Coordinated Maritime Presences in the North-western Indian Ocean. With reference to the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, the EU promotion of an open and rules-based regional security architecture, including secure sea lines of communication, capacity-building and enhanced naval presence in the Indo-Pacific in accordance with the legal framework established by the UNCLOS counts already on a consolidated tool such as Atalanta; being the Operation, among the 18 EU civilian and military missions worldwide, the only one that covers the specific space of the Indian Ocean.
Furthermore, the objective of the Strategic Compass to make the EU a stronger and more capable security provider perfectly patches the intended future of Atalanta under the new secondary executive tasks as a comprehensive Maritime Security Provider.
In this regard, Atalanta has been relentlessly working on the completion of the Operation’s Impact Assessment that will serve to draft the new Strategic Review. Atalanta is confident that our performance has been up to the task and in conditions to face whatever challenges lie ahead.
We have already explained how the month of April 2022 has become a defining moment in the recent history of Atalanta. After the early activation of the executive secondary task of fighting drug trafficking by the PSC in February 2022, with the valuable contribution of French assets in direct support to Atalanta under the modality of “catch and release”, the combined action of French Navy LHD “Mistral” and Surveillance Frigate “Floréal” brought the total to more than 12,5 tons of seized narcotics. The estimated economic impact of these actions is close to 250 million € in average street value in European cities (according to values provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - UNODC). This money will not feed criminal and terrorist networks.
In this spirit, last 5th May, on the occasion of his visit to Seychelles, the OpCdr grabbed the opportunity to congratulate the crews of the French Frigate “Floréal” and ITS “Bergamini”, in its condition of Atalanta’s flagship in the 40th Rotation, for their outstanding dedication as part of the Operation.
Moreover, sailors from the French Navy were awarded the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) medal after 7 successful counter-narcotics operations. In his address during the ceremony, the Opcdr stressed the importance of Atalanta’s work in the interdiction of smuggling, given that when the Operation targets drug cargo, it targets the resources for violent extremist organizations, contributing to the stabilization of East Africa, from Mozambique to Northern Somalia, reducing the likelihood of a resurgence of piracy.
OpCdr awarded the CSDP medals to French Navy sailors
On the 24th May, the OpCdr held his quarterly VTC with Commanding General of CJTF-HoA, MG Jami C. Shawley, to welcome her in her new assignment and continue to develop the relationship dealing with the possibility of new exercises at sea IOT enhance interoperability and mutual understanding.
During the exchange, the OpCdr had the opportunity to stress the previous frank and friendly relation with MG Zana, under whose command the collaboration with CJTF-HoA reached an unprecedented level in fields such as Intelligence and operational cooperation. This cooperation is a valuable source of synergies, first between CJTF-HoA and Atalanta, but also with the newly created CTF-153, commanded by the USA, with its focus on weapons trafficking on the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
On 10th May, Atalanta’s Deputy Commander, FR Navy Rear Admiral Slaars, had the opportunity to hold a VTC with Djibouti Coast Guard Commander, Col. Wais Omar Bogoreh, in order to identify ways of cooperation and possible joint naval activities. Col. Wais expressed a massive support in very laudable terms, in line with the words of the Djiboutian Minister of Foreign Affairs on the occasion of the last edition of the EU-Djibouti Political Dialogue, which took place on 5th April.
On 18th May, Future Operations IUU Fishing Department of the OHQ and a Political Advisor provided the quarterly update of accumulated observations of fishing activities in the Area of Operations to the European Commission’s Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. The information gathered by our assets is fully evaluated and reported to DG MARE in accordance with the current EUNAVFOR mandate.
OHQ staff meeting with DG MARE
On 19th May, Atalanta’s Chief of Staff (CAPT Torrecillas) attended in Brussels to the Global Force Generation Conference. All countries participating in the Operation showed they full commitment and confirmed their support to the Operation. The CoS made a special mention to contributing countries Serbia, Croatia, Lithuania and Montenegro, that have provided AVPD teams on board the WFP vessels as they stand ready to continue this crucial mission whenever Atalanta is allowed to return to Somali territorial waters. This conference was also of paramount importance in order to cover the positions left available after the withdrawal of the German military component from the Operation. Additionally CAPT Torrecillas highlighted the CJSOR shortfall related to the lack of MPRA assets, paramount for the Operation success.
Global Force Generation Conference chaired by OHQ Chief of Staff
The first European Maritime Day took place last 19th – 20th May in Ravenna, Italy, with more than 1.400 attendees. Atalanta’s Special Advisor for the Shipping Industry represented the Operation in the workshop “The EU as a global maritime security actor”, together with representatives from Operation EUNVAFOR MED IRINI, EU CRMARIO and EU Multilateral Fora in Asia. The workshop provided the opportunity to showcase the effort of the EU capacity – building projects to improve maritime domain awareness and to promote international maritime law in the Indo-Pacific.
European Maritime Day, Ravenna (IT), with the participation of EU NAVFOR Shipping Industry Advisor.
In the course of the same visit to Seychelles, the OpCdr chaired the Conference on Counter-Narcotics Operations on board Atalanta’s flagship ITS “Bergamini”. The conference was presented by the Commanding Officer of the French Frigate “Floréal” and was attended by the Head of delegation of the EU to the Republic of Seychelles, Mr. Vincent Degert; the Seychellois Minister of Internal Affairs, HE Errol Fonseca, the Ambassador of Italy and other prominent local authorities with which Atalanta maintains an enhanced level of cooperation.
Conference on Counter-Narcotics Operations on board Atalanta’s flagship ITS “Bergamini”
The conference served to share the successful outcome of the recent drug interceptions, highlighting the importance of the early activation of this executive secondary task by the PSC in the month of February and how the completion of this task will serve to advance in Atalanta’s path to become a fully-fledged Maritime Security Provider.
Also, between the 5th and the 8th May a combined tactical/legal training concept-activity took place in Seychelles. The exercise involved the French Boarding Team of FS “Floréal”; the Seychellois “Tazar” (Special Operations Boarding Team); Atalanta’s Legal Advisor; representatives from the Seychelles Supreme Court; the Attorney General’s Office and officials from the Regional Coordination Operations centre, including its Legal Advisor.
French Boarding Team of FS “Floréal” training the Seychellois Special Operation Boarding Team “Tazar”
The aim of the exercise was to engage with and support local forces and institutions through combined training in boarding TTP’s, legal framework awareness and to further develop interoperability synergies between all stakeholders of the Legal Finish process. This activity is a continuation of the former Piracy Prosecution Path Way Exercise (PPPE), organised and directed by the OHQ on a regular basis since 2008. COVID travelling restrictions impeded the implementation of the exercise in 2020 and 2021.
The exercise coincided with a visit from the Force Commander, IT Rear Admiral Fabrizio Bondi, to the Regional Centre for Operational Coordination (RCOC) that resulted very useful as an update to the centre in Operation’s latest achievements against narcotics trafficking and with regards to the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding among EUNAVFOR, the RCOC and the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre in Madagascar (RMIFC).
EU NAVFOR FCdr visit to Regional Centre to RCOC
On 11th May French Navy Frigate “Floréal” completed its direct support integration to the Operation after having written golden letters in the recent history of Atalanta with more than 8.5 tons of narcotics apprehended. We are looking forward to counting on their valuable contribution anytime soon, not without openly acknowledging our deep appreciation for the engagement of the French Government and its commitment to the ends of the Operation under the French presidency of the EU.
French Navy Frigate “Floréal”
On 17th May, the Spanish Boarding Team from ESPS “Canarias” led a Local Maritime Capability Building event with the Seychelles Coast Guard. During the activity, they shared the details on boarding managements and diving skills in the conduction of military operations.
Spanish Boarding Team from ESPS “Canarias” & Seychelles Coast Guard
On 18th May, the crew of ESPS “Canarias” visited the RCOC, Regional Centre for Operational Coordination in Seychelles, where they had the opportunity to share with its officials the procedures to monitor and control their area of responsibility in order to preserve safety and security in the sea. Reciprocally, the RCOC officials returned the visit to the ESPS “Canarias” where they were updated on the current events as well as recent achievements of Atalanta.
On the same day, in Port Victoria, ESPS “Canarias” received the visit of the Superintendent of the Seychelles Police Force, Mr. Antoine Denousse; Seychelles Coast Guard, Col. Jean Attala, and Air Force Major Rodney Zarine. During the event the attendees had the opportunity to stress the efforts to maintain the current excellent relation aimed to enhance the effectiveness of maritime security in the region.
Superintendent of the Seychelles Police Force, Seychelles Coast Guard and Air Force Major on board the Spanish Navy Frigate “Canarias”
On 19th May, the Hong-Kong-flagged trimaran sailing boat SV “Lakota”, which was sailing inside the Yemeni territorial waters South-East of Hodeidah, reportedly due to GPS failure, encountered armed unidentified individuals on-board at least two boats, according to the evidence provided by the trimaran. With warning shots reportedly fired, the crew of SV LAKOTA estimated to be under direct threat and performed evasive measures.
Atalanta’s flagship, ITS “Bergamini” escorted SV “Lakota” until the Djiboutian Coast Guards took over in front of Obock port. Since her departure from Djibouti’s port, SV “Lakota” was not registered at the Maritime Security Center (MSC Horn of Africa) and, therefore, was not under the standard procedure of daily close monitoring during the transit of vulnerable vessels in the Southern Red Sea.
This incident stands as a clear reminder of the relevance of the Best Management Practices (BMP, Version 5 published June 2018) enacted by the Shipping Industry that are aimed to mitigate as much as possible the risk for every vessel in the area of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.
Moreover, the incident happened as the SV “Lakota” was sailing in an area where the navigation is strongly not recommended, as clearly advised on MSCHOA’s website. The navigation inside Yemeni territorial waters, close to the shore, is an aggravating factor, whereas several maritime incidents had already been reported in the Southern Red Sea. During its 14 years of existence, EU NAVFOR Somalia – Operation Atalanta, along with its partners in the area, managed to build a widespread network and set up efficient procedures in order to ensure the safety of the Sea lines of communications to guarantee the safe flow of navigation of vulnerable vessels transiting the area.
After the incident, on 24th May, the Operation Commander had the opportunity to share an informal VTC with EU Head of Delegation to Yemen, Mr. Gabriel Munuera where, besides analysing the referred incident and identify possible future interactions, both shared their standpoints on the Maritime Security off the coast of Yemen under the Houthi threat, the Cease-fire, starting 1st April, agreed between the Houthi, the Government of Yemen, and Saudi led forces, for two months under the auspices of the UN.
OpCdr VTC with EU Head of Delegation to Yemen
During the course of the interview the OpCdr had the opportunity to describe the Operation’s interest in developing the capacities of the Yemeni Coast Guards. As an example, the operation sent a delegation to the YCG regeneration strategy conference in Vienna in November in order to propose to support the UNODC’s initiative.
Besides the Force Command flagship, Italian frigate ITS “Bergamini” (since 17.03.2022) and the Spanish Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft CISNE, these assets have temporarily reinforced the Operation in Direct Support, i.e. under control of the Force Commander, or in Associated Support, when the asset remains under national command: (from left to right) Italian frigate ITS “Bergamini”, Spanish frigate ESPS “Canarias” (in Direct Support since 17.03.2022), French frigates FS “Floréal” (in Direct Support from 11.04.2022 until 11.05.2022) and FS “Surcouf” (in Associated Support from 26.04.2022 until 09.05.2022 while in Direct Support to operation AGENOR), and FS “Loire” (in Associated Support since 11.05.2022).
On 3rd May, the OHQ celebrated the Polish National Day, marking the declaration of the Constitution of 3 May 1791. On 30th May, the OHQ also celebrated Croatia’s Statehood Day to celebrate the constitution of the first modern multi-party Croatian Parliament in 1990. The members of Atalanta had the opportunity to show their appreciation for the commitment and comradery of Polish and Croatian Officers ascribed to the Operation.
Atalanta’s ESP Political Advisor, upon invitation of the EU Delegation to Chile, participated 18th May in the virtual course on EU crisis management organized by the Joint Center for Peace Operations of Chile (CECOPAC).
Before 40 professionals from Ministries and Armed Forces, both from Chile and from several other countries in the region, the presentation provided an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of EU policy and its contribution to crisis management to a Hispanic-American audience. In addition, Chile has a bilateral framework agreement for participation in the CSDP with the EU and has participated in the EUFOR Althea mission since 2004.
Last 3rd May, the Head of Operations and the Special Advisor for the Shipping Industry presented Operation Atalanta at High School IES Drago in Cádiz. This kind of activities serve to share with the youngest layers of the population the importance of keeping sea lanes of communication open and secure while upholding EU values.
EU NAVFOR presentation at High School IES Drago (Cádiz)
On 9th May, Atalanta celebrated Europe Day highlighting the contribution of the Operation to the common values that build the pillars of the EU. The fundamental values of the European Union—respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality, and the rule of law—have common roots with the ecumenical ideals of justice and peace.