EU Moves Command of Force Fighting Somali Pirates from UK for Spain over Brexit

EU Moves Command of Force Fighting Somali Pirates from UK for Spain over Brexit

The headquarters of the EU NAVFOR, the force combating pirates in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, will be moved from London to Spain ahead of Brexit, the EU Council has decided.

At the same time, the Council extended the mandate of Operation Atalanta, as the anti-piracy effort near Somalia’s coast is known, until December 31, 2020.

It also appointed Vice Admiral Antonio Martorell Lacave from the Spanish Navy as new Operation Commander to replace British Major General Charlie Stickland on the date of the relocation.

“The relocation and change in command are required due to the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU,” the EU Council said.

Thus, as of the projected date of Brexit, March 29, 2019, the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Operational Headquarters will be moved from Northwood, London, (UK) to Rota (Spain).

The Maritime Security Center Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) will be relocated to Brest (France) while remaining under EU NAVFOR OHQ Command and Control.

The Council further allocated funding totaling EUR 11.777 million for Operation Atalanta from January 1, 2019, until December 31, 2020.

“EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta contributes to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. The operation is part of the EU’s comprehensive approach for a peaceful, stable and democratic Somalia,” the EU Council said with respect to the mission, which also protects vessels of the World Food Program.

“The transition is being planned with the utmost consideration to ensure it is smooth and seamless with continued cooperation and collaboration with all stakeholders throughout the region,” said Operational Commander Major General Charlie Stickland, as cited by EU NAVFOR.

“During this time ATALANTA will be conducting business as usual with the Force Headquarters and ships remaining deployed and conducting deterrence of piracy and protection of WFP shipping,” he added.

The EU NAVFOR mission is currently supported by 19 EU nations and 2 partner nations, with aircraft and warships from Spain, Italy and Germany and Autonomous Vessel Protection Detachments rotating between Lithuanian, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. There is also a Support Element group deployed in Djibouti plus a network of liaison officers across the region.

Somali pirates began hijacking international merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean as early of 2005.

According to some estimates, since 2007 Somali pirates have made a total of USD 7 billion. In January 2011, at their height, Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 vessels.

The rise of Somali piracy led the EU, UN, NATO, and China to intervene, successfully ending the hijackings of commercial vessels in 2012, although some hijackings occurred in 2017.

Since then, Somali piracy even made it to Hollywood, with the 2013 film Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks telling the story of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in 2009.

(Banner image: EU NAVFOR Somalia)

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