RNZAF completes Operation Atalanta tour


The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) this week completed its first contribution to the European Union’s counter-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta off the coast of Somalia.

A P-3K2 Orion long range surveillance aircraft from the island nation has been conducting aerial patrols along the Somali coast and Gulf of Aden since October 24.

The contribution forms part of an ongoing commitment by New Zealand to counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Before joining Operation Atalanta New Zealand forces were deployed with the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a 29-nation-strong counter-piracy mission operating out of Bahrain.

Operation Atalanta is a multi-national EU maritime mission launched in December 2008 to deter acts of piracy and armed robbery within the Horn of Africa region and to protect World Food Programme (WFP) ships from pirate attack as they transit the Somali coastline.

Speaking about the contribution by New Zealand, the Commander of Joint Forces, New Zealand, Major General Tim Gall, said “We were pleased to be part of the EU Naval Force and help in the international fight against piracy. The P-3K2 Orion crew are experienced and the aircraft was able to conduct a wide-range of maritime surveillance operations”.

Aerial maritime patrols have proven to be an effective method of deterring piracy. The pirates know that aircraft act as ‘eyes in the sky’ and can direct counter-piracy warships towards a pirate action group (PAG) far out to sea.

Gall also said that “New Zealand is used to operating with other maritime nations and is a key surveillance partner in the Pacific. Assisting the EU Naval Force multi-national effort was a good opportunity to contribute to a large-scale operation further from home. I also know our forces have relished the opportunity to contribute their expertise to this well-respected Task Force.”

Operation Atalanta is currently supported by EU warships from Italy, Belgian, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, with Spain and Germany also providing maritime patrol aircraft.