The first ever Predator deployment with the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) has concluded after more than 300 hours of anti-piracy flight hours were accumulated.
On 7 February, the Italian Task Force Air (TFA) in Djibouti completed its deployment with the EU Naval Force. The detachment, which boasts a Predator, arrived in Djibouti last August and performed its first flight on 4 September 2014. The aircraft was transferred from Afghanistan.
Since then, the UAV has patrolled the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden, the Bab el Mandeb Strait and the north coast of Somalia, the EU Naval Force said.
After 28 missions, and with a total of more than 300 flying hours, the Italian UAV completed its last mission on 5 February. During more than 220 hours on-station, it was remotely piloted by “Line of Sight” (LOS), by 28th Squadron personnel deployed to the French Chabelly Base in Djibouti. It was also piloted “Beyond Line of Sight” (BLOS) by Italian Air Force personnel deployed in Amendola Air Force Base in Italy.
On completion of her deployment, Rear Admiral Guido Rando, Force Commander of the EU Naval Force, thanked the Commanding Officer of the Italian TFA, Colonel Elio Volpari, and his staff for their contribution to Operation Atalanta.
In addition to providing more real-time intelligence on possible pirate attacks, the Predator was also used to monitor the safety of World Food Programme (WFP) vessels transiting the Indian Ocean to provide food and other necessities to needy people in East Africa.
The deployment marks the first time that the EU Naval Force has used UAVs to patrol for pirates as it otherwise relies on vessels and fixed wing aircraft like CN-235s and P-3 Orions.
Piracy has dropped significantly off the coast of Somalia due to patrols by naval vessels and aircraft, the use of private armed security guards, the implementation of best management practices by vessel crews and successes on land.
There were only two confirmed attacks on merchant vessels transiting the High Risk Area in the Indian Ocean in 2014: MV Nave Atropos was attacked on 17 January south of Salalah and MV Andreawas fired upon from two skiffs 10 nm off the Somali coast in February, according to private maritime company Dryad Maritime. During the attack on MV Nave Atropos, the pirates used a previously hijacked dhow (MSV Shane Hind) as a mother ship. Despite almost daily reports of suspicious vessels (dhows, fishing boats and skiffs) these three attacks remain the only ones attributed to Somali pirates.
“Also of significance is the lack of disruption of potential pirate action groups (PAGs) in 2014. During 2013 over a dozen PAGs were detained and destroyed by coalition naval forces but, with the exception of MSC Shane Hind, no other PAG was detected in 2014. This is the lowest level of pirate activity in more than 15 years,” Dryad said.
The European Union counter-piracy Operation Atalanta off the Somali coast was recently extended by two more years to December 12, 2016. The EU Council has added a number of secondary tasks to the Operation’s mandate. The EU Naval Force will now contribute, within existing means and capabilities, more widely to the EU’s comprehensive approach to Somalia, including in support of the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa. It will also be able to contribute to other relevant international community activities helping to address the root causes of piracy in Somalia.
In this respect, the operation could, for example, provide logistical support, expertise or training at sea for other EU actors, in particular the EU mission on regional maritime capacity building (EUCAP Nestor). In addition, Operation Atalanta can also support the EU Training Mission (EUTM) Somalia.
The common costs of EU Naval Force for the two years 2015 and 2016 are estimated at €14.7 million.