MOGADISHU – The European Union has decided to extend its Naval Force Operation Atalanta off the coast of Africa for two years despite the removal of the designation of a piracy high risk area for Somalia and the region of the Indian Ocean. The EU military maritime operation will now run until December 31, 2024.
“Piracy originated in the Western Indian Ocean has been suppressed thanks to the continued presence and effort of naval forces, as well as the action of the private sector and a solid commitment to the implementation of ship security measures by shipping and fishing companies,” EUNAVFOR said in its statement while also saying that it strongly recommends maintaining vigilance. While the High Risk designation was withdrawn on January 1, they continue to recommend voluntary reporting for ships entering the region as part of their voyage planning and execution.
As piracy declined off the coast of Somalia, some legislators in the country have been arguing for an end to foreign naval operations. Instead, the leaders called for evolving the international efforts to focus more on reinforcing the Somalia Coast Guard and the National Navy.
The decision to extend the mission followed a strategic review of the EU’s role in the Horn of Africa. According to officials, the aim is to consolidate and strengthen the EU’s response to an evolving maritime security context and enhance its role as a maritime security provider.
“Capitalizing on the successes of suppressing piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa and Somalia, the overall mandate of Operation Atalanta was consolidated. With this mandate, Operation Atalanta is now in a better position to contribute to the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Somalia, reduce drug traffic, support the ongoing fight against Al Shabaab and its funding stream, and the progress of the government of Somalia,” the European Council wrote in a statement.
The extension also incorporates other EU initiatives in the Horn of Africa and Somalia including, EUCAP Somalia, the EU’s capacity building mission, and EUTM Somalia, the EU’s military training mission. Collectively, these initiatives are anchored under the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy.
Going forward, Operation Atlanta will also extend its geographical scope north of the Red Sea. Leaders for the effort said the broadened scope will ensure the freedom of navigation and protection of the World Food Programme and other vulnerable shipping fleets in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea. Additionally, a wider scope will allow the EU to have an integrated defense approach in the region, as well as build support for a wider regional maritime security architecture.
Operation Atalanta was established in 2008 as a response to the rising levels of piracy in the Western Indian Ocean. It is part of the international naval operations credited for bringing down piracy off the coast of Somalia. According to the operation’s website, they have protected more than 2,000 vessels ensuring the delivery of more than three million tons of food and aid to the region. A total of 171 pirates have been transferred to the local authorities while 12,720 kilos of narcotics have been impounded.
Source: The Maritime Executive