The Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa

The Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA): Safeguarding trade through the High Risk Area (Click here to read this page in Somali)

With up to 95% of EU Member States’ trade (by volume) transported by sea and between 12.5% and 20% of global trade passing through the Gulf of Aden, EU NAVFOR gives considerable effort to safeguarding trade through this strategic area.

The Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) situated in the OHQ is an initiative established by EU NAVFOR with close co-operation from industry. The MSCHOA provides 24-hour manned monitoring of vessels transiting through the Gulf of Aden, whilst the provision of an interactive website enables the Centre to communicate the latest anti-piracy guidance to the Maritime Industry, and for shipping companies and operators to register their vessels’ movements through the region.

Owners and operators who have vessels transiting the region are strongly encouraged to register their movements with MSCHOA to improve their security and reduce the risk of attacks or capture. Additionally, the “Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy” (BMP) and further information about combating piracy, and what action to take should they come under attack, can be downloaded.

A further initiative is the introduction of Group Transits; vessels are co-ordinated to transit together through the IRTC. This enables military forces to “sanitise” the area ahead of the merchant ships. MSCHOA will also identify particularly vulnerable shipping and co-ordinate appropriate protection arrangements, either from within EU NAVFOR, or other forces in the region. EU NAVFOR also conducts focussed operations aimed at achieving specific effects within a given area or time window. By concentrating forces EU NAVFOR can provide influence, deterrence or insight into legitimate activities, and thereby  co-ordinate better future activities to deter piracy and armed robbery at sea, and thus re-assure legitimate merchant mariners.

European Union Naval Operation Against Piracy

Misson and Mandate

The European Union is concerned with the effect of Somali-based piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean. Somali-based piracy is characterised by criminals taking control of vessels transiting the High Risk Areas in the Region and extorting ransom money for the crew, the vessel and cargo; this bearing all features of organised crime.

Crews held hostage by pirates often face a prolonged period of captivity, the average being 5 months, although some hostages have been held for almost three years. Moreover, piracy impacts on international trade and maritime security and on the economic activities and security of countries in the region.

As a result, and as part of its Comprehensive Approach to Somalia, the EU launched the European Union Naval Force Somalia - Operation Atalanta (Atalanta) in December 2008 within the framework of the European Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and in accordance with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and International Law.


Under EU Council Joint Action 851, which is based on various UN resolutions, Operation Atalanta:

  • Protects vessels of the World Food Programme (WFP)
  • Deters and disrupts piracy and armed robbery at sea
  • Monitors fishing activities off the coast of Somalia
  • Supports other EU missions and international organisations working to strengthen maritime security and capacity in the region

On 21 November 2014 the Council of the EU extended the Mandate of Operation Atalanta until December 2016.


Military assets and personnel are provided by the contributing states, with the associated running costs and personnel costs being met on a national basis. In addition, there is a common budget to cover extra costs that are incidental to the Operation (such as travel on behalf of the Operation, specific IT and communication costs, and the costs of medical evacuation).

This budget is agreed and monitored by the Athena Committee of Member States on an annual basis.

For 2016 the budget will be 6.3 million Euros for the common costs of the mandate.

World Food Programme

Since escorts began in late 2007, not a single ship carrying WFP food to ports in Somalia has been attacked by pirates. Under the EU Atalanta operation, which started in December 2008, WFP has delivered more than 385.992 metric tons of food into Somalia through Mogadishu, Merka, Bossaso, Berbera ports.

“WFP remains extremely grateful to the EU for committing itself to escorting ships carrying WFP food for 2009, giving us the long-term protection that our shipments need, especially in view of the increasing need for assistance.”

Each merchant vessel wishing to transit through the Gulf of Aden or off the coast of Somalia is requested to register in advance on the website of the Maritime Security Center-Horn of Africa (www.mschoa.eu), which was set up at the beginning of the operation to facilitate the coordination of maritime traffic.

This initiative, which was welcomed by the whole community of shipowners and merchant navies, makes it possible for vessels that observe EU NAVFOR recommendations to know what arrangements are in place and in some cases, close military protection will be provided thus reducing the risk of attacks or capture.


Comprehnsive Approach

Piracy in the Region has been a threat to security, international shipping and development since the mid-2000s. Somali-based piracy is characterised by extorting ransom money for the vessel and the crew and bears all features of organised crime. Piracy is a complex issue that can only be overcome by combining political and diplomatic efforts with military and legal action, development assistance and strong international coordination. With all these tools at its disposal, the EU is in a unique position to contribute to international efforts.

EU NAVFOR is one part of the EU’s “Comprehensive Approach”, tackling both current symptoms and root causes of the problem.  To that end, other CSDP Missions in region include:


EUCAP Nestor is a civilian mission augmented with military expertise designed to support regional maritime capacity-building.

EU Training Mission Somalia

The EU Training Mission Somalia (EUTM Somalia) is an EU military training mission which aims to strengthen the Somali National Government (SNG) and the Institutions of Somalia, by providing military training to members of the Somali National Armed Force (SNAF).

Together, EU NAVFOR, EUCAP NESTOR and EUTM form a coherent, integrated CSDP package supporting the EU’s Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa.

Strategic framework

The EU’s multi-facetted engagement in the Horn of Africa is guided by its “Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa”. This defines five priorities for EU action:

  • Contributing to conflict resolution and prevention
  • Mitigating security threats emanating from the region
  • Promoting economic growth
  • Building robust and accountable political structures
  • And supporting regional economic co-operation

To co-ordinate these efforts, the EU appointed a Special Representative to the Horn of Africa on 1 January 2012. He was tasked to focus on Somalia and the regional dimensions of instability in the country, as well as on piracy, which has its root causes in the instability of Somalia.

Judicial international cooperation to end impunity

Prosecution of piracy suspects are key component of the overall fight against piracy.

The EU is assisting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in their work to establish sufficient conditions to allow fair and efficient piracy trials in Somalia. The EU is the largest contributor to the UNODC counter-piracy programme. In the short term, transfers for trial from EU NAVFOR ships remain necessary to put an end to impunity in the Indian Ocean.