Atalanta: Successful operation against pirates off the Somali coast

Since 23 December 2008 the German Navy has been helping to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia. On 2 December 2010 an overwhelming majority of the German Bundestag approved a one-year extension of the Bundeswehr operation within the scope of the EU anti-piracy operation Atalanta.

Atalanta is successfully combating piracy in cooperation with other operations and nationally mandated naval forces. The number of successful pirate captures of ships in the Gulf of Aden has sharply decreased. Every ship transporting World Food Programme relief supplies to Somalia or supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has been able to reach its destination safely under the protection of Atalanta.

Securing humanitarian aid for Somalia

According to United Nations figures, some two million people in Somalia, roughly a quarter of the population, are currently dependent on humanitarian aid, making Somalia one of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis areas. Almost all of the humanitarian aid provided through the World Food Programme and other relief organizations is brought in by ship. Protecting that aid is one of Atalanta’s central tasks.

Protecting international trade routes

Atalanta operation

Atalanta operation
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Atalanta operation

Atalanta operation

Atalanta operation

The most important trade route between Europe and Asia crosses the sea off the Somali coast, and particularly the Gulf of Aden. As a leading export nation and as a major importer of goods from Asia and the Arab world, Germany has a particularly strong interest in secure trade routes.

Tackling the causes of piracy

Decades of civil war in many parts of Somalia have left the country’s economy in tatters, with governmental institutions either powerless or entirely absent. Crimes of all degrees of severity, including piracy, are accepted by large parts of the population as a way of earning a living.

Germany is helping combat the causes of piracy. To this end, Germany participates in the EU Somalia Training Mission, a programme to train a total of 2000 security officers of the Somali transitional government, which is being carried out in Uganda within the framework of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy. Beyond this, Germany has earmarked substantial sums to finance and equip the AMISOM mission as well as to train African police officers who are to serve AMISOM as trainers, advisors and mentors to Somali police officers. Germany also supports the constitutional process in Somalia through legal advising provided by the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law. The activities of various UN agencies (UNDP, UNPOS, UNODC) helping develop the judicial system in Somalia are also funded in large part by German and European contributions.

Legal basis

The deployment of German forces requires a UN Security Council mandate, a corresponding decision by the Council of the European Union and the constitutive consent of the German Bundestag.

In February 2008 the Somali transitional government, recognizing that it was powerless to combat piracy, requested support from the UN Security Council. The Security Council then unanimously passed resolutions 1814 (2008) of 15 May 2008, 1816 (2008) of 2 June 2008, 1838 (2008) of 7 October 2008, 1846 (2008) of 2 December 2008, 1897 (2009) of 30 November 2009 and 1950 (2010) of 23 November 2010.

In these resolutions the international community was urged and authorized to take measures to combat piracy, also in Somali territorial waters.

On this legal basis, the EU adopted Joint Action 2008/851/CFSP of 10 November 2008, which established CSDP Operation Atalanta. The Bundestag first approved German participation in Atalanta on 19 December 2008. On 18 June 2009 the Parliament approved extending Atalanta’s area of operations to include the Seychelles. On 30 July 2010 the EU further expanded the area of operations to include Indian Ocean waters off the coast of Somalia and neighbouring countries. This had become necessary because the pirates were conducting raids ever further into the Indian Ocean.

Most recently, on 7 December 2010 the EU extended Operation Atalanta through 12 December 2012. The Bundestag last extended German participation in Atalanta on 2 December 2009, for a period ending 18 December 2011.

Joint operation against pirates

Around 40 warships from different countries are now participating in anti-piracy action in the waters east of Africa, including up to twelve ships and up to five sea surveillance aircraft, within the scope of Atalanta. Germany’s ongoing participation in Atalanta includes at least one frigate with on-board helicopter and a Vessel Protection Detachment, a team of naval protection forces that can – with the permission of the ship’s owner – be deployed to civilian ships to ward off pirate attacks. This makes Germany one of the main providers of troops to Atalanta.

The different actors in the operation cooperate closely to fight piracy, going far beyond traditional alliances. This cooperation is aided on a political level by the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS). On the level of operations, coordination in the region proceeds through regular Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) meetings in Bahrain.

The prosecution of suspected pirates, which serves as a deterrent, is a major element of the fight against piracy.

Those taken into custody on suspicion of piracy are expeditiously transferred to the authority of countries in the region if possible. These countries are required to treat the suspects in accordance with international human rights standards. Prosecution in Germany is possible in principle if there is a particular German interest in the criminal proceedings.

Last updated 27.12.2010


The EU is now in a position to perform humanitarian and rescue tasks, as well as peacekeeping and crisis management operations, including peace building.

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