December marked the 12th anniversary of the European Union’s commitment to halting piracy off the Horn of Africa through Operation Atalanta.
The operation was launched in 2008 at the height of the then Somali piracy crisis.
“Container ships plying east-west trade routes between Europe and Asia were under very real threat, as violent criminal groups operating from the Somali shore seized increasing numbers of vessels and held crews to ransom. Every so often, fatalities occurred; injuries to mariners were commonplace,” according to an EU NavFor statement.
“International commerce was disrupted, shipping costs were rising and seafarer welfare became a major focus for maritime trade associations. By the height of the crisis in January 2011, more 730 mariners were held hostage at once and 32 ships remained seized off the coast of Somalia.”
Condemning all piracy and armed robbery against vessels off the coast of Somalia, the UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1816 was unanimously adopted on 2 June 2008. It was adopted with consent of Somalia and authorised a series of measures to combat crimes at sea.
“As part of these measures, and in support of UNSCR 1816 the European Union launched its first military co-ordinated action in September 2008. This formed what was initially known as EU NavCo (EU Naval Co-operation) and evolved into what is now EU NavFor, the first maritime CSDP operation of the European Union with member states united under the EU flag. The European Council previously expressed concern at the upsurge in piracy off Somalia, which affected humanitarian efforts and international maritime traffic. The Council also stressed the need for wider participation from the international community to secure delivery of humanitarian aid to the Somali population.
“Over the past 12 years, EU NavFor worked hand-in-glove not only with the other multi-national naval forces in the region (NATO and CMF, together forming ‘The Big Three’), but also the navies of independent deploying nations: China, India, Japan, Korea and Russia, which all have major shipping interests in the area.
“With the advent of Brexit and relocation of operational headquarters from Northwood to Rota /Brest, command and control of EU NavFor moved from the UK to Spain, supported by France. At sea it has been business as usual, as military deterrence remains necessary to keep the piracy threat in international waters in check,” the statement said adding there have been no piracy attacks since April 2019.
“The EU can be proud of its achievements in this regard and will likely continue to invest in both preventative and deterrent actions to ensure maritime security remains in place from Suez to Socotra to Seychelles. EU NavFor ensures international commercial and humanitarian shipping will remain protected from the scourge of Somali pirates.”