Hosted by the Operation Commander Vice Admiral Jose M. Nuñez Torrente, the visit provided the opportunity to offer the HR/VP an overview of the operation (assets, status, challenges and opportunities) and to convey its priorities and future perspectives as a maritime security provider in the region. Mr. Borrell was accompanied by his Head of Cabinet, Mr. Pedro Serrano, Deputy Secretary General for CSDP and Crisis Response, Mr. Charles Fries, Director-General of the EU Military Staff, Admiral Herve Blejean, and Head of the EU Delegation to Somalia, Ms. Tiina Intelmann.
Also, Force Commander Commodore Rui Miguel Marcelo Correia and ESPS “Numancia” Commanding Officer, CDR Santiago Martínez, accompanied Mr. Borrell and his delegation during the visit, answering questions about the Operation and the warship's capabilities. In addition, a second asset deployed for the Operation, the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) P-3 ORION, based in Djibouti, conducted a demonstration of its capabilities.
The HR/VP highlighted the “decisive contribution to maritime security, in a region of great geostrategic importance and critical to Europe's security” that ATALANTA represents. The visit took place in the framework of conversations held in Somalia between the HR/VP and the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, where ATALANTA’s continuous commitment towards the protection of the World Food Program aid deliveries was extensively discussed. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud recognized that the protection of the precious cargos of the WFP is paramount for Somalia and expressed his disposition to resume cooperation with ATALANTA on that basis.
In line with constructive discussions between the Somali Federal Government and the EU, we are also pleased by the recent announcement of the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, to authorize ATALANTA access to territorial waters for operations with the aim of addressing IUU fishing, illicit arms smuggling, illicit charcoal trade and duping of toxic waste, should the PSC decide to commend these tasks to the Operation in the imminent review of its mandate.
In any case, the mandate will preserve very clear and defined actions: maintaining secure maritime lines (in a context where energy security and the delivery of food to populations in need have become paramount due to the destabilization created by the conflict in Ukraine); developing capabilities to contribute to a regional maritime security architecture and increasing naval presence, by the legal framework established by UNCLOS.
On the sides of the HR/VP visit, Head of the EU Delegation to Somalia, Ms. Tiina Intelmann received ATALANTA’s Operation Commander for talks about and enhanced mutual cooperation and support, as well as the situation in Somalia.
Also, he had the opportunity to meet the EUTM Somalia Force Commander, Brigadier Roberto Vigiletta, for a mutual update and overview over both missions. ATALANTA deems that this enhanced cooperation is paramount to the principle of the “EU Integrated Approach on the Horn of Africa”.
Under the same guideline, the Operation Commander met EUCAP Somalia Head of Mission, Chris Reynolds, reinforcing their close relationship, identifying new opportunities for cooperation and deepening in the concerted action of the three sister EU missions operating for Somalia’s stabilization.
Additionally, the Operation Commander had the opportunity to hold an office call with Deputy Special Envoy for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia – UNSOM, Mrs. Anita Kiki Gbeho, expressing his gratitude for the support displayed by United Nations agencies in Somalia to the Operation and seeking new opportunities to enhance mutual cooperation.
Hereafter, he met UNODC - United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Deputy Head of Field Mission in Somalia, Mr. Juan Márquez. ATALANTA and UNODC keep a close relationship and share joint activities, such as the Fisheries Inspectors training conducted in Djibouti last February 2022. Both expressed their interest in building on this successful collaboration.
Finally, a last office call was held with Deputy Country Director of the World Food Programme in Somalia, Mrs Laura Turner, and the Fisheries Project Coordinator of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Somalia, Mr. John Purvis, expressing his gratitude for the support to ATALANTA and stressing our full commitment with both bodies.
On 15th September, the OpCdr held a VTC with Rear Admiral E. Slaars, Commander of ALINDIEN to strengthen collaboration with EMASOH – Operation AGENOR and future focussed operations with French units in the Western Indian Ocean.
During a VTC on 28th September with Deputy Secretary General for CSDP and Crisis Response, Mr. Charles Fries, the OpCdr discussed different aspects of the Holistic Strategic Review of CSDP engagement in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, especially details concerning Operation ATALANTA. The review forms the basis for the renewal of ATALANTA’s mandate for another two years until end of 2024.
Beside this visit, different members of the OHQ continued their task of representing ATALANTA and the EU in different fora.
ATALANTA’s Chief of Staff remotely participated on the Netherlands – EU day on 12th September in Amsterdam. The focus consisted mainly on the activities of large “peer-opponents” as well as an overview about forms of crime and criminal activities evolved due to the food shortage, climate change and the Russian war in Ukraine.
On 16th September, ATALANTA’s Chief of Staff addressed a brief to the Council’s Working Party on maritime security under the title “ATALANTA’s overview: cooperation guidelines to tackle present and future challenges”, providing details over the Operation’s tasks and cooperation activities and also to raise awareness and foster discussion among MS on present and future challenges for the Operation.
On 21st and 22nd September, ATALANTA participated consecutively at the EU HQ Conference and 43rd EU HQ Coordination Meeting in Brussels. ATALANTA’s Executive Officer briefed on the current state of play of the different faces of the Operation with regards to its core and secondary tasks. ATALANTA has gone beyond its initial mission to become a Naval Diplomatic tool for the EEAS and one important piece of the CMP concept. He also regretted about the fact of not reaching the minimum CJSOR required to cover such a huge Area of Operations.
ATALANTA is the natural gate of the Shipping Industry and maritime community to the EU. ATALANTA sponsors several conferences and events to put in common the concerns of the industry and seek joint solutions. Thus, ATALANTA, in coordination with the Combined Maritime Forces, chairs on a yearly basis the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction Conference. ATALANTA has just announced the preparations for the 50th Conference, to take place in hybrid format, next 17th November. Four working groups on maritime security, counter piracy, maritime information centres and capacity building will give way to the plenary session with ATALANTA/CMF updates and interventions from representatives of the industry, guest speakers and independent deployers.
ATALANTA maintains an excellent relation with the Combined Maritime Forces, being this strategic partnership one of the key components of the Operation’s success in securing the seas within our Area of Operations. As part of these relations, EUNAVFOR Force Commander, (POR) Commodore Marcelo Correia, conducts regular meetings with the Command chain of the CMF. During their last virtual encounter, the Force Commander presented the perspectives of the current evolution of ATALANTA’s mandate. They also discussed new opportunities for cooperation under the principle “operationalization of the cooperation”.
A dimension of this privileged relation with strategic partners in our Area of Operations is expressed with an array of joint exercises and experiences exchanges. Thus, on 15th September, ATALANTA’s Spanish Special Operations Maritime Task Unit (SOMTU) conducted a cross training activity with US Army Task Forces Red Dragon, on “Close Quarter Battle / Military Operations in Urban terrain (CQB / MOUT). The training activity was an excellent opportunity to share knowledge about procedures and to increase interoperability for future possible combined joint operations. The SOMTU also maintains close relationship with other nation’s Special Operations Units deployed in the same area.
In line with ATALANTA’s intent to develop capabilities to contribute to a regional maritime security architecture, the SOMTU also carried out an activity in the frame of the Military Assistance Program conducted by ATALANTA in Djibouti along with the Djiboutian Coast Guard. The activities ranged from cooperative activities to simulated opposition, tactical boat handling drills and boarding practices.
Seychelles is also benefitting from this commitment towards cooperative training. On 19th September, crew members of the Operational Security team and the Boarding Team conducted training activities with personnel of the Seychelles Defence Forces on board ATALANTA’s flagship ESPS “Numancia” on the occasion of her visit in Port Victoria. These intense activities consisted on “visit and search” operations and MIO (Maritime Interdiction Operations), both of them focused on search techniques, treatment of detainees and movements through the interior spaces of a vessel. This cooperation was framed within the Combined Maritime Forces “Southern readiness Operation” supporting the role of training facilitators.
This principle of ensuring protection through cooperation is key to ATALANTA’s success. In the same alignment, Chief Master Sergeant Jason P. Colon, CSEL of the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa shared a flight on 19th September on board the Orion Detachment P-3 stationed in Djibouti.
ATALANTA is also increasing the domains of capacity-enhancing in support of the Seychellois Naval Force. Thus, from 21st September, initially limited to a joint sea activity, “Operation Marlin” was set up upon request of the Seychellois authorities and counted on the participation of ATALANTA’s flagship, ESPS “Numancia”, and the Seychellois PS “Etoile”, supported by the Seychellois Maritime Patrol Aircraft Dornier 228 and the organic helicopter of ESPS “Numancia” frigate.
The two regional centres of the Indian Ocean Commission, part of the MASE project, were also involved in this operation. The two areas of operations were determined according to the data collected by the Regional Maritime Intelligence Fusion Centre (RMIFC) of Madagascar and all the assets were coordinated by the Regional Coordination Operations Center (RCOC). This cooperation was framed by the MoU signed in December 2021 between ATALANTA and the two regional centres.
The next activities with Seychelles are scheduled to take place in November 2022 and January 2023 during the port visits of ATALANTA assets and will be planned in order to ensure a continuity in all activities already conducted.
Besides the Force Command flagship, Spanish frigate ESPS “Numancia” and the Spanish Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft CISNE, these assets have temporarily reinforced the Operation in Direct Support or in Associated Support, when the asset remains under national command: Italian frigate ITS “Fasan” (in Direct Support until 15th September); FS “Guepratte” in Associated Support until 23rd September 2022); FS “Aconit” (in Associated support since 26th September) and FRA MPRA “Breguet Atlantique 2”, call sign Ulysse H (in Associated Support since 16th September).
On 21st September, EU NAVFOR ATALANTA commemorated the Independence Day, national day of Malta, acknowledging the valuable commitment of its Government towards the Operation’s values and tasks.