The Spanish Air Force P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft detachment based in Djibouti has accumulated 5 000 flight hours as part of the European Union’s anti-piracy Operation Atalanta.
The milestone was reached on July 19 at 15:05 local time, the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) said, with the Spanish Air Force Detachment in Djibouti completing 676 flying missions to date.
During the 676th flight, the Spanish P-3 Orion Aircrew conducted a reconnaissance mission along the north eastern coast of Somalia to search for and identify potential pirate camps.
The first flight of the Orion Detachment, operating as part of Operation Atalanta, took place on 27 January 2009, and since then the Spanish Air Force has been the only European Union country to have maintained a permanent maritime patrol aircraft presence for counter piracy operations, the EU Navfor said.
To maintain this important maritime air patrol continuity, both P3 Orion and CN235 aircraft have been used, with the rotation of the aircraft enhancing operational capability and ensuring a high level of maritime air readiness, the EU Navfor said.
The Spanish Orion Detachment has achieved international recognition for its high levels of operational capability and flexibility of response, having carried out 100% of its assigned missions since March 2012. This 100% mission success is due, in no small part, to the preparation, effort and dedication of the maintenance staff on the ground, together with the air crew, who have spent thousands of hours observing the Somali coastline from the air, the EU Navfor said.
Other nations also contribute maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft to Atalanta, such as Portugal. The first Portuguese P-3 arrived in Victoria, the Seychelles, to take part in Atalanta on April 21, 2009. It was the first time a maritime patrol aircraft from Portugal participated in the EU Navfor operation.
On March 8, 2009, the Swedish Coast Guard’s Bombardier Dash 8 Q300 turboprop conducted its first anti-piracy flight. It was stationed in the Seychelles for four months. It was the first time a maritime patrol aircraft from Sweden had participated in an international maritime operation.
Luxembourg deployed a maritime patrol and reconnaissance detachment from October 2009 as Luxembourg’s participation to the common anti-piracy effort. The detachment returned to Atalanta at the end of February this year, taking over duties from the Swedish Coast Guard unit in the Seychelles.
During previous deployments, the Luxembourg Merlin IIIC aircraft were involved in over 50 maritime incidents; including the detection of pirate action groups at sea, guiding EU Navfor and other counter piracy forces towards suspicious activity, as well as providing imagery of piracy related incidents.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of July 15, Somali pirates have been responsible for nine reported incidents of piracy and maritime crime, including two hijackings, this year. They are currently holding 68 hostages and four vessels.