maritime piracy

The maritime operation in Somalia blocked… by the United Kingdom

(BRUSSELS2) No more weeks go by without pirates boarding a pleasure or fishing boat off the coast of Somalia. Around ten boats and people, including several Europeans, are reportedly detained in the semi-autonomous territory of Puntland, awaiting payment of the ransom. In June, the United Nations authorized the use of maritime force (*). The European Union has offered to carry out this mission. But, for several weeks, meetings have followed one another, notably at the Politics and Security Committee (Cops), in Brussels, and the 27 do not always manage to agree on the implementation of this maritime operation ( Somalia, the first maritime operation for Defense Europe?).

Differences and many questions

It's not really a capacity problem, well at least for now. Several States (Germany, Spain, France, Netherlands, etc.) have proposed ships. There are differences on “thegoal” of the mission: should we actively fight piracy, ensure more passive protection of ships, provide escort for World Food Program boats which supply food relief to the countries of the Horn of Africa, where the situation is dramatic according to the PAM (P.Goossens (PAM): we still don't have an escort for our boats) ? But these differences seem surmountable: the operation could target both the fight against piracy and support for WFP boats. There are also some questions legal serious – what to do with the pirates who would have been seized by European boats? etc. – or “funding” of the mission. All these questions are all the more asked since the EU has never set up a maritime operation. And that there is no precedent per se. We “sailing a little into the unknown” admits an expert of the file. But it must be recognized that the problem is above all political.

A “principled” British veto

The very principle of launching an operation comes up against an fundamental veto. The United Kingdom does not in fact want an incursion by European defense into a new area. It would, in fact, be the first maritime operation ever launched directly by the Europeans. And the British would prefer an operation from another organization, like NATO or a coalition and following the best practices. Like that already carried out on site by the anti-terrorist coalition “Enduring freedom” led by the Americans, the TF150. There is, however, a certain risk of confusion: the objective of TF 150 is above all the fight against terrorism and its mandate differs from an anti-piracy operation (as defined by the UN resolution). This mixing of genres can be detrimental to both operations. The risk is also that pirates will increase the number of raids. And that the Europeans are, ultimately, forced to intervene. Under the pressure of urgency...

Instead of an operation, a simple “coordination”

The European Union could, therefore, decide at the very least. A “light” coordination cell will be quickly set up within the EU General Staff, made up of a few people (approximately 4-5). It will be led by a Spanish ship captain who has just been recruited (not an Admiral to avoid him having command authority over the boats). Its mission: to coordinate, that is to say particularly ensure the exchange of information between all the partners involved: the boats of the Member States or of the TF150 on site, the shipowners (in particular the London office), the PAM …

The cost of this cell could be covered, according to the Athena solidarity financial mechanism. Belgium and the Netherlands were particularly opposed to the use of this mechanism for what was not a European “operation”. The decision should be taken, by written procedure, on September 19. It is a “first step” towards a maritime operation, underline several Member States, the last step of the operation for others (especially the United Kingdom).


(*) The maritime operation, in itself, would be a last resort, according to a military specialist. “Only a land operation could defeat the pirates. But no one is willing to go (or return, if we remember the episode of the American Marines) to Somali territory”.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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