Suppression of Piracy and Criminal Acts off Somalia

April 2009


EU NAVFOR – Operation Atalanta – Suppression of Piracy and Criminal Activity off Somalia

The European Union’s Operation Atalanta is a military mission set up in December 2008 for a 12 month period to help combat the incidents of piracy occurring in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin. The principal task for the EU mission is the protection of World Food Programme shipping delivering humanitarian aid to Somalia, however, the mission is also tasked with the protection of merchant shipping transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin and the deterrence of acts of piracy or criminal activity in these areas. The conduct of these three principal activities by the European Union force does not discriminate against vessel, flag state, type or owner; assistance may be provided to any vessel. It is worth noting that the EU mission in this area is separate to both the NATO naval group operating in the area and warships provided by other nations such as Japan, India and China.

The EU force consists of a number of warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin and the provision of Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance aircraft covering these areas. The operation is commanded from Northwood in the United Kingdom, where the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA) has been established to provide 24 hour manned monitoring of merchant traffic in the affected areas. A website has been established by MSC-HOA at: www.mschoa.org where vessels are strongly urged to register and provide details of their transits anywhere between Point A: 11º 50’N; 045º 00’E and Point B: 14º 28’N; 053º 00’E or the Indian Ocean, bounded within the area 12ºN, 58ºE, 10ºS. Vessels should provide this information as early as possible to MSC-HOA so that they can, if a vessel is deemed to be particularly vulnerable, coordinate appropriate protection arrangements either from EU NAVFOR forces or other forces operating in the region.

An Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) has been established within the Gulf of Aden and EU NAVFOR is operating group transits (GT) through the IRTC, with recommended times of entering the IRTC, dependent on vessels’ speed, published on the MSC-HOA website. Vessels are advised that these are not convoys and are not to wait for warships or other Merchant Vessels but are to proceed at the recommended times and vessels of different speeds will converge in critical areas at the critical times. Vessels may be contacted by warships in the vicinity if they have registered their transit details on the MSC-HOA website. Eastbound vessels are recommended to transit the corridor in its southern transit lane, and westbound vessels in its northern transit lane.

The IRTC is not a Traffic Separation Scheme, nor is it marked with navigational aids and vessels are to comply with the requirements of the International Regulations for the Preventions of Collisions at Sea at all times. The premise behind the IRTC and the GT is that it allows EU forces to ensure that the areas of highest risk within the Gulf of Aden are sanitised at the times of greatest risk, being around sunrise and sunset, and that groups of vessels are together in these locations at these times. It is worth noting that, to date, only one vessel has been taken hostage at night. On occasion the passage of individual warships along the IRTC may be published on the MSC-HOA website in the “Alerts” section.


The MSC-HOA website provides a plethora of information regarding the situation in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin, including intelligence on the piracy problem, advice to Masters on practical and operational best practice to be adopted prior to and during their transit, information on the IRTC and GT. In the event of a piracy incident there are also sections on actions in the event of attack or a successful boarding, and details on actions to be taken in the event of military intervention. The Alerts section of the website details recent piracy attacks and attempted attacks, up to date intelligence on pirate activity and general information. Further information on piracy news stories is also provided by links to the BBC, CNN and Fairplay websites, as well as details of recent press releases.

Finally the MSC-HOA website has details on the reporting format to be used in the event of a pirate attack, and details of how this can be expeditiously reported.

EU NAVFOR are particularly keen to receive feedback from vessels who have transited the area and may have details or photos of suspicious craft that have been sighted, or details of any actions that they may have taken in the event of a piracy incident, that may, or may not have been successful. Email contact details, to which photos or video footage can be sent, are on the website.

For full details please consult the EU NAVFOR website at: www.mschoa.org

Further details on the piracy problem and measures that can be taken can be found in the OCIMF publication "Piracy - The East Africa/Somalia Situation - Practical Measures to Avoid, Deter or Delay Piracy Attacks"