Tuesday, December 11, 2018

EU NAVFOR Celebrates a Decade Protecting Container Ships and Tankers from Pirate Attacks

Military Presence Has Dramatically Reduced Hijackings of Merchant Vessels
Shipping News Feature
SOMALIA – UK – INDIAN OCEAN – Over the weekend, the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR), which protects merchant vessels carrying food aid and deters pirate attacks against container ships, tankers and fishing fleets, celebrated ten years of maritime operations. Commanded from its military headquarters in Northwood, London, the European Union Naval Force was officially launched on 8 December 2008. Codenamed 'Operation ATALANTA', after the mythological Greek huntress, it is a naval force generated by EU Member States working collectively, in support of UN Security Council Resolutions agreed from 2008 onwards, to tackle the Somali piracy crisis at source.

EU NAVFOR has played a vital military role over the past decade in upholding freedom of navigation for commercial shipping and in protecting World Food Programme (WFP) humanitarian assistance destined for Somalia.

As a tool of EU foreign and security policy, EU NAVFOR represents more than just ships. It is a network of military, civil and diplomatic capability that certainly includes maritime patrol aircraft and on-board vessel protection detachments, but which also links into legal, political, commercial and development objectives.

  • Under EU NAVFOR protection, nearly 1.8 million tonnes of WFP food aid have been escorted safely into Somali ports, using a combination of both EU and partner military assets to ensure that the Somali population remains fed.
  • Under its ‘legal finish’ policy, some 145 Somali pirates have been detained by EU NAVFOR, transferred into regional justice systems and successfully prosecuted.
  • The operation’s Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) has registered hundreds of thousands of commercial vessels transiting the contested waters of the Horn of Aden since 2008, in order to assess vessel vulnerability and afford appropriate protection from piracy and other security threats.
  • Local maritime capacity-building efforts performed by EU NAVFOR in support of security and development have seen training sessions organised with African coastguard, port security and military forces in fields as varied as harbour security to forensic evidence protection.
In the years since EU NAVFOR began its operations off the coast of Somalia, incidents of piracy have drastically fallen in the region, with the help of round-the-clock counter-piracy naval patrols, together with a variety of self-protection measures implemented by the shipping industry. These include Best Management Practices, protective citadels, armed guards aboard, razor wire etc. Pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean had surged in 2008 and by January 2011 over 700 hostages and 30 vessels were being held by Somali pirates.

EU NAVFOR continues to work closely with other naval and military partners like the US-led Combined Maritime Forces; those regional states affected by piracy like Kenya and Seychelles; and independent deployment nations like China and India, whose navies share the burden of international convoy escorts in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor.

In this sense, EU NAVFOR continues to act as a catalyst for the network of maritime security capability we see developing from the southern Red Sea into the western Indian Ocean, and EU NAVFOR has become a small but recognised part of the maritime security architecture of the region. It remains extremely relevant in both human and economic terms, as EU NAVFOR seeks to provide protection to the more than €800 billion of east-west trade transiting the military area of operations.

Photo: EU NAVFOR at work, the destruction of a pirate skiff after its seizure.