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The marines “tuna protectors” integrated into Atalanta? (shift)

(BRUSSELS2) Could the marines and marine commandos who protect French fishing vessels off the coast of the Seychelles be integrated into the European anti-piracy operation Atalanta? In any case, some diplomats are thinking about it…

Denial ofAtalanta

On the side ofAtalanta, we deny any need or intention to integrate these ship protection detachments within the European operation”. Currently, these men depend only on the French command and are deployed within the framework army-fisherman agreement, with the agreement of the Seychelles government for the presence on its soil of several soldiers. If there is any development, it could be done on the occasion of the signing of thestatus of forces agreement (SOFA) which must be signed soon between the EU and the Seychelles (1).

Extension to other fishing vessels?

The system would remain unchanged, in particular with the participation of fishing vessel owners in taking care of the military, a presence on board naval vessels and a logistics base in the Seychelles. But this solution would firstly make it possible to have a slightly more solid legal basis for intervention for this dual presence, and also to extend the system to other fishing vessels, flying the Spanish flag in particular, by circumventing the legal problem by Spain.

According to the government, legislative problems in Spain prevent the deployment of Spanish soldiers on board fishing vessels, as well as operational difficulties (2). This operational development would make it possible to circumvent this problem. The solution of private guards, recommended by the Spanish government, does not at all satisfy the fishermen who consider this protection insufficient - nothing beats a good “Marine” according to them -, even dangerous from a liability point of view, not to mention its higher cost: it is estimated between 24.000 euros to 36.000 euros, or even 55.000 euros per month and per boat. And how the operation works Atalanta does not provide them with enough security, they believe.

Atalanta implicated

In Spain, fishermen's anxiety is growing. After the (repulsed) attack of French fishing boats Drennec and Glénan and the (successful) attack of thealakrana, they feel particularly threatened. " If the pirates dared with the French, there is no protection zone worth it ", as reported by the Voice of Galicia. The Fishermen accuse the Atalanta command in particular of not having reacted. “For a week, we have been constantly alerting Northwood (Atalanta HQ). And nothing was done. (...) A Greek frigate is based in the Seychelles, they explain. “She didn't move".

Private security to the rescue

The tuna boats based in Bermeo (Basque Country) have already commissioned a British private company, Minimal Risk (3), according to El Pais, to protect their boats based in Seychelles and which fly the flag of the archipelago. The cost comes to 55.000 euros per month per vessel, not including staff travel costs, maintenance and insurance. Advantage for the sailors, as their boats fly the flag of Seychelles, they do not have to respect the limits imposed in Spain for private companies, in particular by banning long-range rifles or weapons of war.

According to an agreement with the Seychelles government, the weapons of the “mercenaries” will remain in the custody of the captain when he returns to port. Seven ships would be affected by this protection: theErrowape, Demiku, Xixi (belonging to Echebastar, the owner of thealakrana); L'Intertuna I and II (Albacora); the Artza (Atunsa) and the Txori audi (Inpesca). Unprotected ships would sail in tandem with a protected ship. But for tuna boats, this solution of private guards is a stopgap. They far prefer the “marine” solution which seems more secure to them both at the operational and liability levels.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) This development could, however, require a modification of the Joint Action – European decision which bases the operation Atalanta. This could be done by November, when the operation is extended (a joint meeting of the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs takes place on November 16 and 17, 2009).

(2) The Spanish government argues in particular that it does not have a base in Djibouti like the French. In fact, it is above all the possibility of basing its military in the Seychelles which is essential.

(3) Company based in Hereford, run by a former SAS, Bob Cole, Minimum Risk notably intervened in Iraq, as a security consultant and to protect the BBC television teams in Basra and Kuwait in 2003.

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).