Special Edition Interview with Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE, Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force Somalia Operation ATALANTA
Interview with Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE, Operation Commander of the European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation ATALANTA, conducted by Editor in Chief.
Q 1: In December 2020 the EU NAVFOR celebrated its 12 years of Operation Atalanta. Could you please briefly outline the main achieved success of this operation in the last ten years.
Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE: When EU member states launched Operation Atalanta in December 2008, piracy in Somali waters was increasing dramatically. Container ships plying the east-west trade routes between Europe and Asia were under constant and very real threat.
Over the past 12 years, EU NAVFOR has managed to work hand in hand not only with other multinational naval forces operating in this region, such as the US-led CMF, and NATO until 2016, which is one of our most important partners in the region, but also with the navies of independently deployed nations such as Japan and South Korea, all of which have significant maritime interests present. As a result, piracy has been drastically suppressed, with the last confirmed act of piracy taking place in April 2019.
This significant success does not mean, however, that piracy has been eradicated. Operation ATALANTA has forced criminal networks associated with piracy to diversify their activities and engage in other illicit maritime crimes, keeping piracy as a dormant activity waiting for the right opportunity to reemerge.
This extremely complicated context has led to the modifications in Operation ATALANTA´s new mandate, approved in December 2020 to enable the Operation to strengthen maritime situational awareness and counter maritime threats beyond piracy.
Q 2: In January 2021 the Operation Atlanta received its new mandate. With this new mandate how long the Operation Atalanta has been further extended in time and expanded in its mission?
Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE: First of all, I must say that due to the success of Operation Atalanta and other international initiatives, the situation today is very different. The last incident of piracy in our area of operations was in April 2019. However, it must always emphasize that although piracy is contained, it has not been eradicated. Incidents that we can classify as “suspicious approaches” continue to occur in the area of operations and the networks that were engaged in piracy have adapted their activities to other illegal activities with less risk, retaining their ability to carry out acts of piracy, as soon as the situation is favorable to them.
This is the main reason why the mandate of Operation ATALANTA has been extended every two years, and why the last extension in December 2020 for another two years included additional tasks. Now, besides combating piracy and protecting UN World Food Program (WFP) ships and other vulnerable vessels in the area of operations, which has been and is our main mission, we also contribute to eradicating other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling and illegal charcoal trafficking, activities in which these pirate networks are becoming involved due to the presence of anti-piracy naval forces in the area.
Q 3: Air assets have been recognized highly valuable in Operation Atalanta from its start. Could you please speak about the EU NAVFOR and its Air operations (Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance)?
Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE: The air assets make an essential contribution with their specific capabilities, adding range and flexibility to the joint effort. They are mainly used to carry out Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance, as you said, and collect data which is processed by our analysts. This contributes to all aspects of Op ATALANTA and supports the full spectrum of maritime operations, especially those related to maritime security.
Additionally, we have to highlight that they can be tasked for other activities, such as SAR (Search and Rescue) missions, in response to an emergency or other situation’s demanding immediate assistance.
Fortunately, we can count not only on our own resources but also on the MPRA of our partners in the area of operations, sharing information and distributing action zones to guarantee the maximum effectiveness and efficiency of our resources.
- Has there been any upgrades in EU NAVFOR’s Air resources in the recent years?
Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE: Since the beginning of the Operation, the number of deployed MPRA during rotations has been the same with the P-3 ORION as core asset. These assets are one of the reasons for our success, together with the deployed Air Detachments supporting their every need, every step of the way. The means and characteristics of the P-3 ORION offer us a wide range of capabilities that cover all operational requirements.
Unmanned aerial vehicles like the embarked Scan Eagle also reinforce our ISR capabilities. Therefore, we are more than pleased to continue with this outstanding asset as part of our operation and, at the same time, be able to offer its capabilities to those of our partners who may need them.
Q 4: The United States Navy has been the supporting partner for the EU NAVFOR in Operation Atalanta from the beginning of this Operation. Could you please comment on the significance of this partnership.
Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE: As we have been already saying, trying to make the best use of the maritime assets already present in the area, EU NAVFOR ATALANTA has created a specific framework, the Cooperation Concept of Operation ATALANTA (COCOA), which provides for enhanced cooperation in our area of operations and foresees various types and durations to contribute and support the Operation. Currently, we are cooperating with the US Navy in several different frameworks.
An example could be the increased coordination between Operation EU NAVFOR ATALANTA and Combined Task Forces 150 and 151 of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) under command of a Vice Admiral of the US Navy and a considerable U.S. participation in means and capabilities. As already mentioned in the first question, we maintain the best of relations with both of them and we can coordinate our efforts, if necessary for maximum effectiveness and efficiency with our available assets.
On the other hand, the US Navy has regularly supported the assets of Operation ATALANTA. As an example, we could mention the Replenishment at Sea (RAS) operations that, on recent occasions, ATALANTA naval assets have carried out with the USNS Big Horn of the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
Q 5: Please tell us about the crucial role that the Spanish Naval Force is playing in the Operation Atalanta.
Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE: Spain is fully committed to the EU’s external action. We understand that EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation ATALANTA is a tool that offers a vital service to Member States by providing maritime security and sending a message of protection, stability and support to both WFP vessels and the maritime community. At the same time, we support different institutions in Somalia, together with our two EU sister missions: EUCAP Somalia and EUTM Somalia within the EU framework of the “Integrated Approach” for Somalia, in order to reach the desired situation that will allow local authorities to take responsibility for sustainable development and security in the area, as soon as possible.
In this vein, Spain is making a great effort to lead the Operation by dedicating means and permanent personnel out of our strong commitment to those principles of security, stability and support to Somalia.
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Acknowledgment: Image Hon. VICE ADMIRAL JOSÉ M. NÚÑEZ TORRENTE, Operation Commander of the European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation ATALANTA, April 2021©EUNAVFOR. The Interview is subject to Copyright Law. ©EU NAVFOR/ Spanish Naval Force / U.S Naval force/ U.S Europe World Affairs.