EU to Extend Anti-Piracy Force off Somalia until 2016

Written by | Monday, January 13th, 2014

The EU is set to extend its Operation Atalanta, a multi-million euro counter-piracy naval force operating off the coast of Somalia, which is widely seen as part of the bloc’s comprehensive approach to peace-making and state-building in the Horn of Africa. A well-informed EU official speaking on condition of anonymity said that the mandate for the force that was due to run out in December 2014 was “even likely to be extended for two more years.” The programme, which is estimated to cost over €100 million a year, is designed to safeguard international shipping lanes while also taking active steps to counter piracy, as well as monitor fishing activities.
Operation Atalanta is viewed by Brussels as one of the key elements in its toolbox, which includes financial aid and the training of security forces, that the EU employs to back its ‘comprehensive approach’ to state-building and peace-making in the Horn of Africa. The US state department has praised Atalanta for bringing the hostages numbers in the region from over 700 in 2011 to around 50 today. But the EU maintains that it is “strongly committed to bringing this number down to zero: zero ships and zero seafarers in the hands of Somali pirates”. The EU is about to assume the chair of the International Contact Group on piracy off the coast of Somalia for a year. With the first meeting under the EU’s chairmanship due to held in Paris on 28 January, the EU’s priorities will focus on streamlining the group and bringing in more regional players, such as shipping companies, the African Union and neighbouring states.
Brussels also appear to tacitly endorse the recent French plan to allow armed private security guards to protect its shipping fleets against pirates also because, as one EU official explained, “decisions taken by some member states and international partners to have security guards have contributed to the success – or decrease in number of attacks and hostage taking.” However, at the same time, this fight is linked in the eyes of EU policy makers with the campaign against al-Shabab Salafi Jihadists, whose support has mushroomed in the years since a more moderate Islamic Courts-led government was overthrown in a US-backed coup. While recognizing that the ‘business models’ of al-Shabab and the pirates are very different, the EU also has to take into account the fact that Somalia has to dedicate many security forces to fighting al-Shabab, which is why they don’t have enough capacity to deal with other security challenges.
The Horn of Africa has been designed as an area of ‘strategic EU interest’ since November 2011, largely due to a governmental vacuum. This geostrategic importance was defined by historic ties, humanitarianism and a need to protect EU citizens from threats emanating from the region, such as “piracy, terrorism or irregular immigration,” the Council communication said. With respect to the migration, recent months have seen a sharp increase of the number of migrants fleeing Eritrea and Somalia north through the Sahel, many of whom end up tragically trapped in places and boats like Lampedusa off the coast of Italy.

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