Interview with Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack, Force Commander in Operation ATALANTA

In the exclusive interview series, this time we have the honour of hearing views  from Force Commander in Operation Atalanta, Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack on the various aspects of Atalanta and its luminous success.


Force Commander in Operation Atalanta Rear Admiral Jan Kaack EUNAVFOR June 2016 Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack, Force Commander in Operation Atalanta. June 2016 © German Navy/US EU World

Q: In your ceremonial speech, on assuming the position as the Force Commander, you indicated the necessity of remaining vigilant and the continuation of the Military presence in the Operation Atalanta (in the region).

  • Could you please expatiate on that.

Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack: Think of our mission as the bandage and dressing applied to the heavily bleeding wound of an otherwise health casualty. The wound is not going to kill the patient instantly. You have time to think about what to do next. Once you start applying pressure to the bandage, the bleeding stops almost instantly, which is good. But the very moment you ease on the pressure, the bleeding will start again. So, you need to be patient while keeping up the pressure.

And I can assure you: they are still out there! Their intentions and capabilities to resume their old business models are still existent. It has, however, so far been our common effort, military and shipping industry, that their opportunities to operate have been cut-off. And this might well be the case for the foreseeable future… as long as we – together – keep the pressure.

According to a World Bank report (Nov 2013), between 2008 – 2012 pirate leaders received over 350 million Euros in ransoms. Young men can earn up to 30,000 dollars from a successful pirating. I do not see them giving up on these potential gains easily.

Q: With the current unrest in the Northern Africa and Yemen, how do you assess the Security Environment in the Southern Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden?

Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack: Of course we are always keeping an eye on the political developments in and around our area of operation. Because this might have an impact on our operation as well. For the forces under my command it is clearly the situation on Yemenite soil that has to be watched and assessed constantly. Thus far, the deteriorating security situation ashore does not effect dramatically our operations. It is more the side effects of the developing security environment on the Arabian peninsula and the horn of Africa, that we have to be aware of. Human trafficking, weapon smuggling, you name it…

You might remember, that my flagship, BAYERN, has just recently saved 92 lives from drowning.

Furthermore our protégés of this operation, the ships of the World Food Programme, are regularly approaching Yemeni harbours and thus need to be protected until we can hand them over to security forces at the TTW of YEM.

Q: In the area of the civilian sector, you have highlighted the need also for developing self-protection mechanism by the shipping industry.

  • As a Force Commander of the Operation, are you planning to execute certain measures that could impel the shipping industry into that direction?

Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack: The shipping industry has made significant efforts to reduce merchant vessels’ vulnerability against pirate attacks with the implementation of what have proven to be highly effective self-protection measures known as Best Management Practice (BMP).

We regularly engage with shipping industry representatives in the Operation Headquarters, at counter-piracy conferences and at the SHADE (Shared Awareness and DE-confliction) meetings in Bahrain with our counter-piracy partners. At such meetings we update the industry on the current piracy threat.

We also run the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) ‘Mercury’ system, which provides the necessary military response to reported pirate attacks. Merchant ships’ masters can log on to ‘Mercury’ and provide information about their intended routes, self-protection measures etc. as they transit the High Risk Area. We also send out alerts via the ‘Mercury’ System when there is a piracy incident.

About 75% of the maritime industry adheres to self-protection BMP and about 35% of merchant ships have private armed security teams embarked as they transit the High Risk Area. These collective measures have helped to ensure that pirate incidents remain at a low level.

It has however to be stated, that we see the willingness to adhere to BMP measures reduce week by week. This is a development that we see with some concern, which brings me back to my answer to the first question: “their opportunities have been cut off … as long as we – together – keep the pressure.”

This issue is being addressed constantly in the fora mentioned above.

Q: You have recently visited the Spanish Warship ESPS Tornado, and the Italian Warship ITS Euro.

  • Please  explain  how all these various Military apparatus and discipline are working so well together–and under one Operational Command.

Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack:  Multinational exercises, operations and missions could be called business as usual nowadays. Most involved nations are NATO members who have practiced multinational operations for decades already. We speak the same language, literally and operationally, and follow the same procedures – we even undergo the same certification process for becoming combat ready.

I would like to also point out that the cooperation with non-NATO members like Pakistan and Japan works out really well. The cooperation and coordination, even with singly acting nations like China, is usually very trustworthy. Seafarers of any country understand each other and especially in case of emergencies are willing to help anybody.

Furthermore, there are regulations and publications in force, how to communicate and work together with navies that have not the luxury to be part of NATO or the EU. The so called CUES (Code for Unexpected Encounters at Sea) which is basically a short excerpt of a tactical publication. Cooperation through this document works well and has been proven to be effective with a lot of nations like China, India, Singapore and others.

Q: The German Navy’s P-3C Orion, with the Spanish P-3 and D-4 VIGMA, are holding an indispensable key role in the Operation Atalanta.

  • Are there more of European MPRA (Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft) participating in Atalanta?
  • And how do they coordinate to maximize the momentum in the Operational fields?

Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack:  Next to our MPRAs, who are definitely carrying the main bulk of the very important surveillance work load, we are supported on a regular basis by French aircraft.

But also very important for our mission at sea and to the coastline are our organic helicopters on the ships as well as UAV’s.

Also we can always rely on the support of the aircraft and UAV’s assigned to our partner counter-piracy mission. In cooperation with our partners we achieve a lot of synergy effects and make best use of the scarce resources in the area of operations. I am very happy with the results of this combined work force.

Furthermore, let me highlight the importance of two small teams that are doing a very important job and are rarely seen in public. That is our support element in DJI, building the logistical fundament to be able to operate effectively.

The second team is our AVPD (Autonomous Vessel Protection Team, highly trained Marines that operate embarked on a time chartered vessel of the WFP for months and months. They go into ports like MOG and KIS and are worth a frigate because we do not have to send a ship to protect the merchant vessel. Those guys are doing a perfect job.

Thus, what we are doing and achieving is always a team effort with partners of the international community, from the other EU missions and within our team of EUNAVFOR SOMALIA – Operation ATALANTA.

Q: In the broader spectrum, the Multinational Military Affairs of Op. Atalanta, which is combined of the twenty-two European Naval Forces–yet unified and work in one Operational front– is a notable symbolism of European modern Defence policy and its Armed-Forces.

  • As the Force Commander, please give us your view on this landmark of European Defence cooperation.

Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack: “Atalanta” is an excellent example of a practiced European-wide defence policy but so far we can only fight the symptoms of piracy. I would like to refer to my comparison of a pressure dressing. Just like the well-known Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz already phrased it: We can only buy politics some time. This time needs to be utilised to advance the political and economic development in Somalia and promote the executive authorities. With the Comprehensive Approach in Somalia this is exactly done by the EU. Just like we – as the  seaward element of this Comprehensive Approach – are protecting the supply of the Somali population through the protection of World Food Programme, AMISOM and other vulnerable shipping as well as deterring piracy with our military power, the EU supports the set-up of good governance and economics. Assisting to that our partnering missions EUCAP Nestor and EU Training Mission Somalia develop the security sector at sea and on land. This makes the EU Operation in Somalia so unique.



* The Interview is subject to Copyright Law. © EU Naval Force ‘Operation Atalanta’/German Navy/ US EU World  All Rights reserved.