The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has welcomed the extension of the counter-piracy naval operation EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta through 2018, calling threat of piracy off the Horn of Africa and Western Indian Ocean still “extremely high”.
The statement follows the EU Council’s decision in November to continue to deploy military forces for counter piracy operations in the Western Indian Ocean until December 2018, despite a drastic reduction in the number of attacks from the peak of Somali piracy in 2011.
“The presence of military forces is an essential component of the package of government actions that has helped to suppress the activities of Somali pirates, in support of the protective measures that continue to be taken by the shipping industry,” ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe said. “Ship operators and seafarers will be very pleased that EUNAVFOR has announced its ongoing commitment to these vital counter piracy activities.”
Somali pirates are currently not holding any vessels or crew hostage, but experts have warned that the threat of piracy in the region still exists. Last month Somali pirates unsuccessfully attacked a chemical tanker a few hundred miles off the east coast of Somalia, marking the first reported attack on a merchant vessel in more than 2 1/2 years.
“While other security concerns now draw the attention of the international community, it is a fact that the threat which Somali piracy presents to international trade is still extremely high, as the Secretary-General of the IMO has recently observed. Alongside a strong military deterrent, it remains essential that ships maintain compliance with the industry’s Best Management Practices to prevent a resurgence of hijacks and kidnappings by these violent criminal gangs. The extension of the EUNAVFOR mandate will also play a critical role in achieving this,” Hinchliffe added.
EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta typically uses 1,200 personnel and four to six warships, as well as two or three patrol aircraft provided by EU member states. Before its mandate was extended, the operation was due to be shut down in December 2016. The mandate requires to EUNAVFOR to protect vessels of the World Food Programme (WFP) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), deter and disrupt piracy and armed robbery at seam monitor fishing activities off Somalia, and strengthen maritime security in the region.
Also last month, NATO announced it would be ending its Indian Ocean counter-piracy mission, known as “Ocean Shield”, after patrolling the area since 2009. NATO is instead shifting resources to deterring Russia in the Black Sea and people smugglers in the Mediterranean.