Three hundred and fifty men and women serving aboard the Dutch flagship HNLMS Johan de Witt this week received the EU Naval force medal for their contribution to the EU’s counter piracy Operation Atalanta.
Atalanta force commander, Commodore Peter Lenselink, presented the medals during a ceremony on the De Witt’s flight deck.
He said both EU staff and the ship’s company had worked hard and could be proud of their efforts in contributing to making the seas off the Horn of Africa safer.
“We have operated in a sea area which sees between 20 000 and 30 000 merchant ships sailing through each year many of them destined for European ports. The work you have carried out was due to the real concerns of our countries about the safety of maritime trade and stability in the region. If ships can’t sail safely through the Gulf of Aden, we immediately notice this in the price of gas for our cars and in the prices of goods in the stores.”
He warned piracy was not finished in the area. “International co-operation has brought it under control, but it is not over. Pirates have attacked vessels and we have seen pirate action groups (PAG) still taking their chances. If we leave now, the pirates will come back,” he said.
Soon after the end of the monsoon season early in October, Somali pirates in two skiffs made their presence felt by firing shots at a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) about 230 miles off the coast. No damage was caused and no injuries were reported but the incident prompted Operation Commander Rear Admiral Bob Tarrant to say it indicated there was “still a clear and present danger” from pirates off the Somali coast.
HNLMS Johan de Witt left her home port of Den Helder in The Netherlands on July 14 this year. On August 6 the Royal Netherlands Navy warship became the flagship of Operation Atalanta, with force commander Commodore Lenselink and his multi-national staff embarked. On Friday he will hand over command of Task Force 465 to his successor Contre Amiral Hervé Bléjean of the French Navy and on December 21 HNLMS Johan de Witt’s crew will return home to their families in time for Christmas.