European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia - Operation ATALANTA

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 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 (145 days) but some hostages have been held for more than two years and eight months (1001 days). 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 the Comprehensive Approach to Somalia, in December 2008 the EU launched the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia – Operation Atalanta 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 in response to the rising levels of piracy and armed robbery off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean

Operation Atalanta is the European Union’s counter-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia.

Under the EU Council Joint Action, which is based on various UN resolutions, EU NAVFOR’s mandate is to conduct:

  • The protection of World Food Programme (WFP) vessels delivering aid to displaced persons in Somalia, and the protection of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) shipping.
  • The deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Somali coast.
  • The protection of vulnerable shipping off the Somali coast on a case by case basis.
  • In addition, the EU NAVFOR also contributes to the monitoring of fishing activities off the coast of Somalia.

On 23 March 2012 the Council of the EU extended the Mandate of Operation Atalanta until December 2014.  At the same time, the Council also extended the Area of Operation to include Somali coastal territory and internal waters


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

The agreed budget for EU NAVFOR amounted to EUR 8.4 million in 2010, EUR 8.05 million in 2011 and EUR 8.3 million in 2012. A budget of EUR 14.9 million is provided for the common costs of the mandate until December 2014.

Comprehensive 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 European regional capacity building mission aimed at enhancing the maritime capacities of initially three to five countries in the Horn of Africa and the Western Indian Ocean.

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 the “Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa”. It defines five priorities for EU action: building robust and accountable political structures; contributing to conflict resolution and prevention; mitigating security threats emanating from the region; promoting economic growth, and supporting regional economic cooperation.

To coordinate these efforts, since 1 January 2012, the EU appointed a Special Representative to the Horn of Africa. He was tasked to initially focus on Somalia and the regional dimensions of the conflict there, 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.