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Hats off to London for Operation Atalanta

Hms Cornwall engaged in the fight against piracy in February 2011 (credit: British Ministry of Defense / MOD)

(BRUSSELS2) It is rare for people in London to praise Defense Europe. And yet... Reading the latest report from the House of Lords on Operation EUNAVFOR ATLANTA, one must think that there has never been a more successful and efficient mission.

The Lords are asking for more, considering that the European operation should be “renewed after 2014”. Even if the containment of piracy remains Atalanta's primary goal, its elimination must still be the long-term objective, they believe. If we compare the month of June 2011 with 23 ships taken and 501 hostages with the month of June of this year 2012 with "only" 8 ships taken and 215 hostages, we note a clear reversal of the situation with the pirates of the Horn of Africa. “Particularly effective with respect to its objectivesaccording to Nick Pickard, head of security policy at the British Foreign Office. The members of the chamber thus scrutinize the different elements which, in their opinion, make the Atalanta Mission a success.

Hardware gaps are filled

The latest report from the House of Lords (April 2010) pointed to shortcomings in the material and human resources made available to the mission. The report mentioned a lack of aerial surveillance (maritime patrol planes, helicopters), supply ship and even medical facilities. According to N. Pickard, the problem is solved. A supply ship has been made available to the mission and the shortcomings of the medical facilities will soon be filled. Aerial surveillance resources are also available, although "the area remains too large for full coverageexplains Dr. Lee Willet of the Royal United Service Institute. Some problems persist. The lack of helicopters constitutes one of these problems according to Christian Le Mière de l'International Institute for Strategic Studies. The second, more consequent, it is the poor degree of human information, due mainly to the lack of terrestrial presence. A problem important enough for most people interviewed to highlight it.

And on dry land too…

Despite these few flaws, the ground attack of May 2012 proved, according to the members of the Chamber, that the mission was capable of carrying out an offensive "precise","legal" and "very well coordinated". The situation in Somalia is also improving according to the report. “Al Shabaab finds itself destabilized” emphasizes Dr. Knox Chitiyo, member of the Chatham House (think tank) and the Brenthurst Foundation. We also note that the Somali population is much less hostile towards the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The European strategy for the Horn of Africa and the other missions of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) would, again according to the report, be a step forward, however modest. What the Lords commend above all is the cooperation and coordination between the missions. "A model for maritime cooperationtold them Nick Harvey, former British Minister of Defence. The report feared a lack of formal coordination between NATO and the EU, as has often been the case in similar missions. But it would seem that this difficulty has been avoided and that relations are fluid between the commands of Ocean Shield and Atalante.

The issue of private guards and insurance companies

In 2010, serious doubts had been raised about the use of private guards on civilian vessels. The Lords feared an escalation of violence and even higher ransoms. It is clear that this has not been the case and that no attack by a ship equipped with guards has, for the moment, been crowned with success. The members of the Chamber nevertheless ask that this use remain "temporary and exceptional».

The Chamber had also asked insurance companies to share some of the responsibilities by promoting the adoption of best management practices (BMP). Today the report finds that progress has been made. About 30% of shipping companies do not comply with BMPs. Similarly, 92% of British ships use private means of protection and 70% of ships worldwide.

The EDF to the rescue of prisons?

The number of pirates arrested, the number of pirates tried and the number of pirates imprisoned are increasing. And the report warmly welcomes the central role of Seychelles in this judicial process. The archipelago has already judged between 140 and 150 pirates and imprisoned around a hundred of them, even if there are reservations at the level of the Council of Somali Organizations regarding compliance with the rules of judicial procedure. The Lords also welcome discussions with Tanzania and Mauritania for the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement, as well as a burden-sharing agreement with Kenya. The problem is that the Seychelles only have room in their infrastructure for 60 pirates while the sentences range between 10 and 15 years in prison. Repatriation to Somalia is necessary, but the level of the prisons there poses major problems. Only that of Somaliland is up to standard. The Puntland prison arouses all the more fears that one speaks of possible links between the administration and the organization of pirates. The report estimates that 2000 hackers worldwide are currently awaiting trial. The participation of the UN or the European Development Fund (EDF) could, according to the Chamber, make it possible to remedy the problem by financing more infrastructures and in particular infrastructures and rehabilitation programs for minors.

Excellent international cooperation

Finally, the report applauds international cooperation around the fight against piracy. China's participation is appreciated and strongly encouraged. Just like that of India or even Russia. With piracy moving south and gradually affecting the coasts of Tanzania and Kenya, further coordination with these countries is also necessary and is therefore gradually getting underway. Two criticisms, however: the Gulf countries must play a greater part in the piracy game, and in particular share the financial, material and legal costs; the British diplomatic presence in Mogadishu which is not yet present despite the request of the Council of Somali Organizations; this harms the credibility of Great Britain and its European partners…

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