EU operation ATALANTA in the Horn of Africa

EU operation ATALANTA in the Horn of Africa

As part of its Integrated Approach to Somalia, the EU deployed the European Union Naval Force ATALANTA (EU NAVFOR) in December 2008, in the context of the European Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) and per relevant UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and International Law.

What is the EU Integrated Approach against piracy in the Horn of Africa?

Somali-based piracy is a multifaceted matter that can finally be overwhelmed by joining political and diplomatic means with armed and legal instruments, development aid, and robust international management. Having those resources, the EU can participate successfully in global struggles.

EU NAVFOR is one component of the EU’s “Integrated Approach,” facing both present indications and deep origins of the issue.
Other CSDP Missions in Region comprise:

EUCAP Somalia:

EUCAP Somalia is a noncombatant operation improved with military know-how intended to help local naval capacity-building.

EU Training Mission – Somalia

The EU Training Mission – Somalia (EUTM Somalia) is an EU armed preparation operation that aims to secure the Somali National Government (SNG) and the societies of Somalia, by offering military teaching to colleagues of the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF).

Jointly, EU NAVFOR, EUCAP Nestor, and EUTM are a bright, collective CSDP bundle implementing the EU’s Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa.

Strategic Framework

Its “Strategic Framework” guides the EU’s multi-facetted engagement in the Horn of Africa.
The EU Strategic Framework defines five priorities for EU action:

Building robust and accountable political structures
Contributing to conflict resolution and prevention
Mitigating security threats emanating from the Region
Promoting economic growth
Supporting regional economic co-operation

To coordinate these efforts, the EU appointed a Special Representative to the Horn of Africa on 1 January 2012. EU Special Representative focuses on Somalia and its security, as well as on piracy, which is rooted in the destabilization of Somalia.

What are the main initiatives on Judicial international co-operation to end pirate’s impunity?

The prosecution of piracy suspects is a critical element of the global conflict anti-piracy.

The EU is aiding the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in their action to grant adequate conditions to ensure fair and effective piracy prosecutions in Somalia. Currently, transfers for testing from EU NAVFOR ships to the Member States of the Regional States is essential to stop pirates’ legal immunity in the Indian Ocean.

The EU is the most significant financial contributor to the UNODC counter-piracy program. A joint EU/UNODC program aiding the judicial structures of Kenya, the Seychelles, and Mauritius provides technical help to manage the additional demands related to the trial and custody of alleged pirates.

How is arranged the coordinated criminal investigation against pirates?

Piracy is an organized criminal activity occurring at sea. Inversely from ancient and modern era piracy, contemporary piracy is managed on land, with hijacking teams and boats as the business model.

It is fundamental to hurt the “risk/reward” balance for those who benefit most from piracy to reach the goal of disrupting criminals’ business model – including the tracking and disruption of the financial flows.

EU NAVFOR delivers Interpol pertinent data on Somali-based piracy. Furthermore, the EU is dynamically accompanying the formation of a common mechanism amid the prosecutors of the states involved.

What is the mission of Operation Atalanta?

The European Union organized operation Atalanta to tackle and destroy Somali-based piracy off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean.

Criminals taking control of vessels transiting the High-Risk Area in the Region and extorting ransom money for the crew, the boat and cargo characterize Somali-based piracy: this bears all the features of organized crime. Teams held hostage by pirates often face a prolonged period of captivity, the average being five months, although some occurrence continued for nearly three years. Furthermore, piracy influences international trade, maritime security, the economy and security of states in the area.

What is the Mandate of Operation Atalanta?

Under EU Council Joint Action 851, grounded on various UN resolutions, Operation ATALANTA goals are:

• To protect boats of the World Food Programme (WFP), African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and other defenseless shipments.
• To deters, prevent and repress piracy and armed robbery at sea.
• To control fishing activities off the shore of Somalia.
• To support other EU missions and international organizations working to support maritime security and capacity in the Region.

On 30 July 2018, the Council of the EU protracted the Mandate of Operation ATALANTA until December 2020.

What have been the achievements of Operation Atalanta?

Data gathered since 2008 prove that EU NAVFOR, in co-operation with her counter-piracy partners, has developed highly efficient in inhibiting assaults.

Jointly, intelligence-led actions, a firm and proactive approach, as well as the prolonged energy to inform the maritime business and the merchant shipping about the consequence of self-defense procedures, have diminished the success rate of pirate assaults.

At the peak of Somali piracy in January 2011, pirates seized 736 prisoners and 32 boats. By October 2016, criminals detained neither hostages nor vessels.

Since the beginning of the Operation in 2008, EU NAVFOR – Operation ATALANTA scores a 100% success rate in protecting WFP vessels delivering food/aid to the Somali people and AMISOM shipments critical to the success of the African Union operation in Somalia. Also, Operation Atalanta ensured the protection of other vulnerable shipping within the IRTC and the High-Risk Area.


The mission contributed to the deterrence, prevention, and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia.
Aa a result of EU close co-operation with regional governments such as those of The Republic of Seychelles, Mauritius, and Kenya, local administrations detain suspected pirates for legal prosecution and conviction.


Moreover, EU NAVFOR conducts and supports several Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) rescue operations in the zone, assisting local, regional, and international commercial and fishing boats in distress.

Where and how does the EU Naval Force EU NAVFOR operate?

EU NAVFOR is deployed in an Area of Operations encompassing the Southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and a considerable share of the Indian Ocean, comprising Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros. The Area of Operations also includes the Somali coastal Region, as well as its territorial and interior waters. The operational zone ranges an area about 4,700,000 square nautical miles (approximately 8,700,000 square kilometers).

In the Area of Operations, EU NAVFOR components perform activities under the Mandate. Close co-operation with WFP and AMISOM guarantees that no boat carrying humanitarian aid (or logistics for the African Union) will sail defenseless along the Somali shoreline.

EU NAVFOR warships also patrol the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Also, warships and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) organize scouting and reconnaissance actions. Ships and their crews regularly engage in remote or physical control of boats sailing the High-Risk Area.

Operation ATALANTA

Meetings with local seafarers, or ‘friendly approaches,’ are managed to deliver an improved knowledge of naval practices by speaking with the teams of fishing and trading boats in the Region and by making ships’ commanders informed of the Best Management Practices (BMP) for defense against Somali piracy, i.e., self-defense procedures.

An essential goal of EU NAVFOR is the dissuasion and interruption of piracy and armed raids on the high seas. Warships capture supposed pirates following intelligence details of pirate movement or detections by merchant boats and MPRAs.

When EU NAVFOR forces find suspicious boats, and further examination corroborates the doubt, a task force begins the search for the pirate units. Supposed pirates may be detained before transferring them to competent national authorities for prosecution. Pirates equipment is often confiscated as evidence. Interruption of pirate logistics chain was also deployed on the Somali shoreline as part of a dedicated mission in May 2012.

EU NAVFOR warships regularly aid vessels in distress, under a pirate attack, or in an emergency at sea.

EU NAVFOR assets also support the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) ‘s programs to monitor fishing activity in the area.

What states participate to Operation Atalanta?

Participation in EU NAVFOR goes beyond the EU Member States. Norway was the earliest non-EU country to join the Operation, with a warship in 2009. After Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine have provided staff officers to the Operational Headquarters (OHQ) and Force Headquarters (FHQ). In 2014, Ukraine deployed a warship, and New Zealand added an MPRA.

Ways of involvement in EU NAVFOR:

Navy boats (surface battle vessels and support ships, including boarded helicopters)
Sea Patrol and Survey Airplanes (MPRA)
Vessel Protection Detachment (VPD) teams
Provision of military and civilian staff to work at the OHQ in Rota, ES or onboard units
The composition of EU NAVFOR routinely changes due to the recurrent replacement of units and changes fitting to the monsoon periods in the Indian Ocean. Nonetheless, it usually includes about 600 troops, 1–3 Surface Combat Ships, 1-2 MPRA and 1-2 UAVs.

  • German P-3C Orion
  • Spanish P-3M Orion
  • Italian Frigate Carlo Bergamini
  • Spanish Frigate Numancia

In addition to EU NAVFOR units, a relevant international military naval force is positioned in the area, including the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). Also, independent governmental units from countries such as China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and others – all committed to counter-piracy, implement similar activities with different mandates and mission objectives.

EU NAVFOR maintains a close liaison with these forces to de-conflict and coordinate activities within the Area of Operations.

How is the EU Naval Force financed?

Military assets and troops are paid by the participating states, while associated running costs and personnel costs are paid on a national basis. Besides, a specific fund covers extra expenses related to the Operation (travel, IT and communication expenses, and medical flight). This financial plan is approved and audited by the Athena Committee of Member States annually.

For 2019 the budget was 5.1 million Euros for the routine expensed.

What is Operation Atalanta’s legal basis?

A series of the Council of the European Union decisions, United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and International Law, are the legal foundations of EU NAVFOR.

In the Area of Operations, EU NAVFOR corps can capture, arrest, and move people supposed of aiming to do, doing, or having done acts of piracy or armed robbery at sea.

EU NAVFOR military can confiscate boats of supposed pirates or armed raiders, ships were taken by an act of piracy or armed burglary at sea, and boats hold by pirates or armed robbers.

Accused can be sued by an EU Member State, by the Regional States, or by additional Third States with which the EU has treaties, and which wants to apply its law over the alleged pirates. Supposed pirates may not be transferred to a Third State that does not recognize the fundamental rights of International Law, particularly International Law on Human Rights.

How is managed the custody of supposed pirates?

In the Area of Operations, EU NAVFOR corps can capture, arrest, and move people supposed of aiming to do, doing, or having done acts of piracy or armed robbery at sea.

EU NAVFOR military can confiscate boats of supposed pirates or armed raiders, ships were taken by an act of piracy or armed burglary at sea, and boats hold by pirates or armed robbers.

Accused can be sued by an EU Member State, by the Regional States, or by additional Third States with which the EU has treaties, and which wants to apply its law over the alleged pirates. Supposed pirates may not be transferred to a Third State that does not recognize the fundamental rights of International Law, particularly International Law on Human Rights.

Who is in charge of Operation Atalanta Political leadership, strategic focus, and command organization?

The European Union’s Political and Security Committee (PSC) has political power and strategic ruling of this EU naval military mission, below the legitimacy of the Council of the European Union and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission. The Operation Commander (Op Comd) of the EU NAVFOR refers to the EU PSC.

The European Union Military Committee (EUMC) hosts military discussion and co-operation between the EU Member States on the topic of war deterrence and crisis management. It supports the PSC with consulting and suggestions on military issues. The EUMC audits the correct management of Operation ATALANTA running under the authority of the Op Comd. The Chairman of the EUMC is the main point of communication for the Op Comd.

Under the Secretary-General/High Representative, the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) supports the military issues of the CSDP. It provides consultancy, on demand of the Secretary-General/High Representative or the PSC, for Operation ATALANTA. The EUMS also produces strategic study jointly with the Op Comd.

The Operation Commander, Spanish Major General Antonio Planells Palau, heads EU NAVFOR Somalia from the OHQ at Rota, Cadiz (Spain). There Op. Comd. plans and conducts the Operation in conjunction with the political and military authorities of the European Union. The Deputy Operation Commander (DCOM) exercises command in the absence of the Op Comd.

The Force Commander (FCdr) exercises command and control of all military forces in the Area of Operations from the Force Headquarters (FHQ) afloat on a flagship contributed by a Member State. He is responsible for the planning, orchestration, and execution of tactical military activities, and contributes to the Operational Planning taking place in the OHQ.

George Costa

George Costa is a reporter specialized in defence and security systems. He covers international defence and security issues, such as international conflicts, WMD proliferation, and cybersecurity, as well as news reporting on developments in the global defence community.
Enable Notifications    Ok No thanks