New Atalanta Commander in office ahead of 15th anniversary

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Operation Atalanta, the European Union (EU) maritime tasking in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, today (Thursday, 23 November) welcomes a new operation commander and marks an early commemoration of its upcoming 15th anniversary.

Spanish Vice Admiral Ignacio Villanueva Serrano takes the mantle of command from Vice Admiral José María Núñez Torrente, a fellow Spanish flag officer, during a parade at Naval Station (NS) Rota in Cadiz. Billed as the Gateway to the Mediterranean, the NS is part of a larger naval base with port and airfield facilities and support services for the Spanish Air Force and Navy as well as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and US (United States) forces.

Serrano is a US (United States) Navy qualified naval aviator and at sea has commanded Spanish Navy gun patrol vessels and landing ship platforms as well as holding land-based senior positions.

The change of command parade will also mark the 15th anniversary of Atalanta, ahead of its official launch date of 8 December following EU approval to create the operation a month earlier. Royal Navy (RN) Rear Admiral Philip Jones was the first Atalanta commander with Commodore Antonios Papaioannou of the Hellenic Navy the first force commander.

Atalanta’s mandate has been added to in response to changes in the maritime situation in its area of operation (AOO) and it is currently rated a maritime security provider in the north-western Indian Ocean. The AOO includes Gulf of Aden and neighbouring countries, including the port and city of Muscat in Oman; the Somali Basin; the Red Sea; and the gulfs of Aqaba and Suez.

Executive tasks include protecting World Food Programme (WFP) and other vulnerable shipping; deterring, preventing and repressing piracy and armed robbery as well as contributing to “disruption” of drug and weapons trafficking.