On November 25, 2016, the European Council extended Operation Atalanta’s mandate to deter, disrupt and repress acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia, until December 31, 2018.
The two-year mandate extension comes amidst concerns within European Union Member States that whilst pirate attacks on merchant ships transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean are currently suppressed, pirates still have the intent and capability to go out to sea and mount an attack.
The most recent pirate incident occurred on October 22, 2016, when a chemical tanker, CPO Korea, was attacked by six armed men 330 nautical miles off the east coast of Somalia.
EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) (Somalia) was launched in December 2008 following a surge in piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. At the same time, the World Food Programme (WFP) was increasingly concerned about the safety of its much-needed humanitarian aid deliveries to Somalia.
Since then, EU NAVFOR warships and maritime protection teams have escorted over one million tons of humanitarian aid for the Somali people and, together with their international partners, have helped to reduce pirate incidents.
At the height of piracy in January 2011, over 700 hostages and 32 vessels were being held by Somali pirates, with huge ransoms for their release. Today, no vessels or hostages are being held by Somali pirates, EU NAVFOR Somalia said.
As part of the operation’s mandate, EU NAVFOR crews also assist sister EU missions and instruments working within Somalia and the wider region to strengthen maritime domain awareness, security, local governance and the rule of law.
In the coming year, EU NAVFOR commanders will be working with regional partners and the shipping industry to look at what measures will need to be put in place beyond December 2018 to ensure that Somali-based piracy remains suppressed.
Separately, the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) welcomed the European Council’s decision to extend the mandate of Atalanta.
“The two-year mandate extension comes at the right moment. Pirate attacks on merchant ships have been significantly reduced over the years compared to when the operation started in 2008, but a recent armed attack on a chemical tanker shows that piracy is unfortunately still alive along the coast of Somalia,” Patrick Verhoeven, ECSA Secretary General, said, adding that piracy will remain “an attractive business model for criminal networks” before establishing long-term solutions on land.