NATO Extends Somali Counter-Piracy Ops Through 2016

A NATO boarding team inspects a suspected pirate skiff off the Horn of Africa. File photo courtesy NATO.
A NATO boarding team inspects a suspected pirate skiff off the Horn of Africa. File photo courtesy NATO.

NATO officials this week decided to extend NATO’s counter-piracy operation until the end of 2016 as Somali pirates continue to threaten ships transiting the Horn of Africa region.

Since August 2009, NATO ships have patrolled the waters off Somalia as part of Operation Ocean Shield, with the mission of contributing to international efforts to fight maritime piracy and to help build the capacity of regional navies.

Operation Ocean Shield works closely with other naval forces patrolling the Indian Ocean including US-led maritime forces, called Combined Task Force 151, and EU naval forces, called EU NAVFOR Somalia – Operation Atalanta.

As part of the overall international effort, Ocean Shield has helped to significantly reduce pirate activity in the region significantly since its peak in 2011. That year, pirates captured 24 ships and NATO recorded 129 pirate attacks off Somalia. In 2012, the number of attacks had fallen to 20. Not a single ship has been captured off Somalia since May 2012, and no merchant ships are currently held by Somali pirates.

Despite recent successes, however, piracy remains a real threat in the region and pirates continue to posses the intent and capacity to attack ships. NATO ships continue to detect attempts by pirates to capture vessels. In addition, the root causes of piracy inside Somalia remain.

Some 90 percent of all global is carried by sea, with about half of that passing through the Indian Ocean, NATO says.

Operation Ocean Shield currently includes ships from Spain, Italy and Turkey operating roughly from the Arabian Gulf to the north, the Seychelles in the south, the Gulf of Aden to the West and the Maldives in the east, covering an area greater than 2 million square miles or the size of Western Europe.

As part of its mission, NATO forces regularly verify the activity of shipping off Somalia, separating out legitimate maritime traffic from suspected pirate vessels, and in many case perform escorts to ensure their safe passage. In addition, NATO ships and boarding teams can actively pursue suspected pirate ships, board a suspect ship to determine if pirates are on board, and as a last result use force to stop pirates.