The European Union has extended the mandate of the maritime security Operation Atalanta off the Horn of Africa until 31 December 2020.
The European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) on 30 July said the mandate extension signals the EU’s commitment to continuing counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast. “Furthermore, the ongoing protection of vulnerable shipping gives confidence to the World Food Programme in delivering vital aid to Somalia. This mandate extension is a standard approach that allows the EU to regularly review its operations and extend as required.”
Following the decision by the UK to withdraw from the EU, the EU Navfor Operational Headquarters (OHQ) will also relocate from Northwood (UK) to Rota (Spain) by 29 March 2019. At the same time, the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) will relocate to Brest (France) and will remain under EU Navfor OHQ Command and Control.
Operational Commander, Major General Charlie Stickland, said: “The transition is being planned with the utmost consideration to ensure it is smooth and seamless with continued cooperation and collaboration with all stakeholders throughout the region” he added: “During this time Atalanta will be conducting business as usual with the Force Headquarters and ships remaining deployed and conducting deterrence of piracy and protection of WFP shipping.”
General Stickland also said on the announcement of the next Operational Commander: “I am already working closely with Vice Admiral Antonio Martorell Lacave and it is my role to ensure that this operation remains a CSDP exemplar and that my successor is set up for continued success.”
Vice Admiral Antonio Martorell Lacave from the Spanish Navy will be the new Operation Commander from March 2019.
The mission is currently supported by 19 EU nations and two partner nations, with aircraft and warships from Spain, Italy and Germany and Autonomous Vessel Protection Detachments rotating between Lithuanian, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. There is also a Support Element group deployed in Djibouti plus a network of liaison officers across the region.
The EU on 30 July said its decision to extend the mandate also allocated a budget of €11.777 million for the common costs of the operation for the period 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2020.
“EU Navfor Operation Atalanta contributes to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. The operation is part of the EU’s comprehensive approach for a peaceful, stable and democratic Somalia,” the EU said.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), piracy off Somalia is declining. There were no reported incidents recorded off the coast of Somalia in the second quarter of 2018.
Nevertheless, the IMB has warned against complacency off the Horn of Africa, as there were incidents in the first quarter of 2018. A product tanker was fired on and chased by two skiffs around 160 nautical miles off Hobyo. At the end of March, a 160,000 DWT tanker reported being fired on in the Gulf of Aden while transiting within the Maritime Security Transit Corridor. The distance from land, sighting of ladders and firing upon ships continues to illustrate that the Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to attack merchant shipping in the wider Indian Ocean, the IMB said.
Somali pirates continue to hold crew, and in June released four Iranian fishermen captured three years ago.
Pirate activity off East Africa doubled in 2017 compared to the previous year, Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) said earlier this year, indicating that Somali criminal networks are still capable of sophisticated attacks. For 2017 OBP recorded a total of 54 incidents in the Western Indian Ocean Region, an increase of 100 percent from 2016, which saw 27 incidents. These incidents included one hijacking, three kidnappings, three robberies, 15 failed attacks and 32 incidents of suspicious activity.