Operation Atalanta


EUNAVFOR, A Promising “First”

By Harry Syringas


Atalanta operation in the Gulf of Aden
 The aim of the "Eunavfor Somalia - Atalanta  operation" is to protect ships of the World Food Programme (WFP)
transporting food to the displaced populations of Somalia, to protect  the vulnerable ships sailing off the Somali coast,
 and to dissuade,  prevent and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of  Somalia.
The operation is placed under British command. The French  frigate le Floréal are also put in position.
Germany also announced its  participation and could be joined by other EU countries.
Credit:The navy watching, controlling and arresting suspicious fishermen, European Union, January 2009

12/08/2010 – One of the European common defense policy’s main goals is to consolidate the EU’s impact and role in the international scene. Apart from controlling what goes on within its borders, it also conducts operations in order to monitor and intervene, within its capacities, in a situation taking place beyond them. One of those operations is EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta, one branch of an even vaster EU action in the Horn of Africa to deal with the crisis in the region. Below is a mid-course glance at the four-year mission undertaken in 2008.

Twenty Years of Escalating Chaos In Somalia
Piracy around the Horn of Africa is the result of two factors: the motive of profit and political instability, the latter being the origin of escalating chaos. Somalia is a country that has not had a functioning government since 1991 : today it remains in a state of total anarchy, facilitating riots between opposite illicit groups and banditry. [1] Somalia has had indeed no functioning government since the United Somali Congress (USC) ousted the regime of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Said “Barre” on January 27, 1991. The present political situation is one of anarchy, marked by inter-clan fighting and random banditry, with some areas of peace and stability. In the wake of the collapse of the Somali Government, factions organized around military leaders took control of Somalia.

Banditry however is not only action between local clans. Pirate attacks coming from Somali ships increased so much over the past few years that Somalia became the number one security challenge in the area. The International Maritime Bureau recorded 111 attacks in the waters off the Horn of Africa in 2008, almost double the number in 2007. As of April 20, 2009, the International Maritime Bureau had counted 84 attacks since January: approximately 300 non-U.S. crew members on 18 hijacked vessels remain in Somali captivity. [2]

The absence of coastal security authorities led to unlawful fishing, waste dumping, and attacks against foreign commercial vessels and humanitarian aid missions.

ESDPs First Maritime Operation
In response to this scourge, the UN Security Council issued four resolutions (1816, 1838, and 1846 adopted in 2008, and 1897 adopted in 2009). Resolution 1851 allowed international naval forces to arbitrate in the open sea around the Somali coasts. The EU launched the operation in December 2008 – the first maritime operation of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) – and reached full capability in February 2009. According to the decision of the Council of the EU last June, the mandate will continue until December 2012. [3]

Its main objectives are to escort vulnerable shipping crossing the area, including vessels from the World Food Program and the African Union Military Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), repress piracy, and monitor fishing activities off the coast of Somalia.

At present, the strength of EU NAVFOR – Atalanta is formed by:

  • One fast frigate and one maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft – MP and RA – (CISNE CN235) from Spain
  • One frigate from Greece
  • One frigate and one MP and RA (JESTER P3C) from Germany
  • One ocean patrol vessel and a MP and RA (Blue Bird Dash 8 ) from Sweden
  • One MP and RA (Seagull Merlin III) from Luxembourg
  • One landing platform Dock/Amphibious Ship from Holland
  • One MP and RA (Lobo P3P) from Portugal
  • One Frigate and helicopters from France.

Belgium and a number of third countries, such as Norway and Croatia, are also participating, and the Ukraine and Montenegro are expected to participate. Moreover, there is a military staff from Cyprus, Ireland, Finland, Malta, and Sweden providing aid to the team at the Northwood Operation Headquarters.The European naval force operates in a zone comprising the south of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and part of the Indian Ocean, which now includes the Seychelles. This represents an area comparable to that of the Mediterranean.

Credit: Disruption operations, www.eunavfor.eu

EUNAVFOR As  Key Coordinator
Since November 2009, EUNAVFOR-Atalanta took the lead in the coordination between the multinational, national, and regional naval forces operating in the area, a very important step to the strengthening of the EU’s role as an international key factor, considering that it got to become the liaison and to bring together the CTF-151, the NATO Maritime Group as well as the Russian, Indian, Japanese, and Chinese vessels taking part in the monitoring of the zone concerned.

Results have shown that since the operation was initiated in late 2008, vessels of the World Food Program have stopped being attacked, making it possible for near 400.000 metric tons of food to be delivered into Somalia through Mogadishu, Merka, Bossaso, and Berbera ports.

Results have shown that since the operation was initiated in late 2008, vessels of the World Food Program have stopped being attacked, making it possible for near 400.000 metric tons of food to be delivered into Somalia through Mogadishu, Merka, Bossaso, and Berbera ports.

The operation and, more importantly, the coordination of international forces brought fruit and showed that when there is will there is a way. However, the fact that the presence of European and international naval forces in the Somali coasts and the Gulf of Aden is prolonged means that the primary goal is yet to be achieved. The EU NAVFOR isn’t an unconnected police/monitoring mission; it’s part of the global EU initiative and action in the Horn of Africa to arrange the situation in Somalia, to resolve an ongoing crisis of political origin. In overall terms, we can talk about a successful operation, a positive example of European coordinated, defence policy action. However, the root of the problem, which is the absence of an actual state in Somalia, is still there; extirpating it will probably mean that the EU is really in a position to resolve a crisis.


[1] www.globalsecurity.org

[2] Congressional Research Centre, Piracy off the Horn of Africa, http://africacenter.org

[3] www.eunavfor.eu

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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