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Portuguese Setúbal and French Diksmuide, together, in the Gulf of Guinea

(B2) The Portuguese Navy's ocean patrol vessel Setúbal, which left in early March, joins the French helicopter carrier Diksmuide already on site. The first illustration of the pilot project decided by the European Union in an area where pirate attacks are numerous

The Portuguese high seas patrol vessel Setubal on its departure from Lisbon (credit: Joao Bico / MinDéf Portugal)

Patrols in the Gulf of Guinea

For three months, the Portuguese high seas patrol boat (P-363), commanded by Commander Dias Marques, with a staff of 58 soldiers, will participate in exercises, cooperation actions and will patrol throughout the Gulf between the Angola, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and São Tomé e Príncipe. The French amphibious helicopter carrier Dixmude (L9015) is already present in the area, for a period of four months in total. The common objective for the two ships: to ensure a maritime presence, to thwart pirate attacks, to come to the aid of ships attacked, to strengthen the local navies through joint exercises and training.

A first action within the framework of coordinated maritime presences

This mission is the first within the framework of the pilot project for coordinated maritime presences decided by the European Union last January (1). This rather original concept aims to coordinate the various European maritime presences, without having the full format of an operation under the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) (read: The coordinated maritime presence. A new European concept? Explanations). Thus, during all the months of the year, between one and three European ships will be permanently present in the area, coming mainly from Spain, Italy, Portugal and France (1). The plans have been harmonized and adjusted to avoid having 'holes'.

A more flexible concept than operations

This concept has an advantage over operations. It is more flexible, allowing each member country to maintain its autonomy of action and its own timetable. And above all, it does not deprive the riparian countries of their primary responsibilities, by giving them the impression of a military force superimposed on their own forces (2). Nothing prohibits to evolve besides towards an operation in good and due form.

Ancient presences

The Portuguese Navy has a regular presence in a historically local area. Developed since 2008, the Mar Aberto Initiative promotes defense cooperation missions with the community of Portuguese-speaking countries (CPLP). On the French side, Operation Corymbe has existed since 1990. Set up first to ensure the safety of the French populations present in the various countries around the Gulf of Guinea (Côte d'Ivoire in particular) and to be able to intervene in evacuation, in In the event of local tension, it has gradually increased in power and diversified, with many interactions with countries in the area.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Two ships from each country (Italy, Spain, Portugal) will take turns there, three or four ships for France.
  2. Despite appearances, the situation is not quite comparable to that of Somalia. On the one hand, the acts of pirates also regularly take place in ports or territorial waters (and not on the high seas). On the other hand, there is no United Nations Security Council resolution in the Gulf of Guinea authorizing entry into territorial waters (as with Somalia).

It should be noted that the pirate catchment area has recently expanded, the pirates having set sail. Read : Pirates love the Gulf of Guinea. The most dangerous area.

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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).