Operation Atalanta: from 2008 to the present day

Piracy has been present from the end of the last century off the coast of Somalia to the present day
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EU Naval Force Media and Public Information Office Fuente:  -   The EU Naval Force in Somalia is active in locating and arresting pirate groups.

Thanks to Operation Atalanta, which has been pursuing piracy and illegal trafficking for more than 10 years and working together with other NATO missions such as SNMG2 (Standing Nato Maritime Group 2) and Task Force 150, a security corridor has been established in high-risk areas off the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.

Why Somalia?

The 1990 civil war and the overthrow of the dictatorial government leader Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 are the main reasons why Somalia has since been a failed state plunged into complete instability, political fragmentation and economic crises.

All of this, together with the lack of governmental authority and its strategic position, has turned Somalia into an ideal choke point for various criminal activities such as piracy, human, arms and drug trafficking from countries such as Iran and Pakistan. 

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AP PHOTO/JAVIER FERGO - Spain took over the EU's anti-piracy operations against Somalia.

The difference between Somali piracy and that of other areas is that while in other parts of the African coast the objective is to steal goods or the ship itself, in Somali piracy the objective is to obtain a ransom for the ships and their crews by kidnapping them for several months (the average period of captivity is 5 months, although some hostages have been held for almost 3 years).

In 2006, there was the hijacking of the Indian ship Safina al-Birsarat; during 2008 alone there were 134 attacks and 40 ships were hijacked, including: Le Ponant, a French yacht seized together with 30 people on board; Playa de Bakio, a Spanish fishing vessel together with 26 people and the oil tanker Sirius Star; in 2009 the fishing vessel Alakrana with 36 workers. The last known hijacking took place in 2012.

Operation Atalanta

Due to the economic impact, the negative repercussions on international trade and on maritime security and the security of countries in other regions, the Council of the European Union developed the European Union Naval Force ATALANTA (EU NAVFOR) in 2008 in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSC) and international law, and launched the well-known Operation Atalanta (extended until 31 December 2022), which works jointly and in coordination with SNMG2 (Standing Nato Maritime Group 2) or Task Force 150, both under the mandate of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).

This is a military mission whose main objective was, and continues to be today, the fight against armed assaults and piracy in the Horn of Africa, the coasts of Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and the Bab el Mandeb strait that links the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

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AP Photo/GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT - Spain's armed forces put on a show of naval and air manoeuvres in Rota, southern Spain.

What is the purpose of Operation Atalanta? 

EU NAVFOR is responsible for maritime security and has as its main objectives - among many others - the deterrence and disruption of piracy and armed robbery and ensuring the maritime sector supports freedom of navigation and commerce. The following is a more detailed description of the objectives pursued by the Operation and the daily work of the military, intelligence teams and other bodies: 

  1. Deter, prevent, suppress and combat piracy and armed robbery.
  2. Protecting vulnerable vessels such as World Food Programme (WFP) ships or the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
  3. Monitoring and surveillance of fishing activities such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
  4. Combat illegal arms and drug trafficking by preparing the formalisation of related executive activities.
  5. Support other EU and international organisations' missions.  

Since 2016, both hijackings and vessel detentions have been reduced to zero thanks to the cooperative and daily work of the operations and the intelligence reports on which the operations are based.

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AP Photo/GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT - Spain's armed forces put on a show of naval and air manoeuvres in Rota, southern Spain.
What role does Spain play in Operation Atalanta?

In 2019, following the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union, the Operational Headquarters (OHQ) will move to the Rota Naval Base, a fact that undoubtedly reaffirms and confirms Spain's great commitment to global security and defence. 

Since the operation began, Spain has participated uninterruptedly, contributing different naval resources, such as the Spanish Navy's frigate Victoria; and air assets, such as the P-3 "Órión" aircraft and a maritime surveillance aircraft at the Djibouti base (Djibouti Orion Detachment), which has some 60 military personnel, of the 350 operational personnel in total, distributed between Rota and Somalia.

In its more than 10 years, Operation Atalanta has very significantly reduced piracy - which is increasingly contained but not eradicated - and armed assaults off the Horn of Africa. Moreover, through its joint and proactive work with other missions, it has managed to provide the necessary protection to World Food Programme vessels to enable the African Union Operation in Somalia to be carried out, as well as to provide food and aid to the Somali population. 

Edurne Villanueva, National Defence collaborator at Sec2crime


  1. El Orden Mundial. (2020). ¿Qué es un choke point?
  2. Ministerio de Defensa. (2019). EUNAVFOR «Operación Atalanta». EUNAVFOR «Operación Atalanta».
  3. European Union External Action. (2021). EU Naval Force-Somalia Operation ATALANTA. EU NAVFOR.,and%20humanitarian%20shipments%20off%20the%20coast%20of%20Somalia