Special Edition interview with the European Union Naval Force in Operation Atalanta (Series-5)

An Exclusive interview with Major Victor Gallardo (Spanish Army) – Spokesperson and Chief of EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta Media Branch,   conducted by Editor in Chief, Catherine S. Schmidt

It is a great honor to have you with us in this interview, Sir. Thank you for accepting the invitation. 

Q 1: The European Naval Forces – Operation Atalanta has been implementing continuously series of trainings and maritime capacity building with African partners. Could you speak about some of these recent maritime activities in coordination with the European Union Capacity Building Mission in Somalia (EUCAP)?

First, I would like to thank you for the opportunity given to me by such an outstanding News Media to make EU NAVFOR Operation ATALANTA, our objectives and activities, as well as the deep and robust cooperation with US forces with whom we share areas of operations, a little better known.
Regarding EUCAP Somalia, I must say that our cooperation is very intense and close as we are part, together with EU TM Somalia, of the EU Integrated Approach to Somalia. Thanks to the special structure and capabilities of EUCAP, they have the responsibility to generate all capacity building/enhancing activities with regard to maritime security, in which we cooperate as experts in the field. 

As perfect example, last 19 December, ESPS “Santa María” conducted a Local Maritime Capacity Building activity in international waters. The activity consisted of providing support to EUCAP-Somalia on a three days drill carried out with Somali Police Force and Maritime Police Unit and Coastguard. The training was focused on basic navigation procedures on paper chart, use of radar, communications training, boarding search and seizure procedures and first aid. Remarkably, for the first time, the Somali Police Force and Maritime Police Unit and Coastguard made a transit with two boats over 12 nautical miles in order to embark/disembark their personnel on board ESPS “Santa María”.

Q 2: The U.S Naval force has been also a supporting partner for the EU NAVFOR from the beginning of Op. Atalanta. As of recent time the ESPS Santa Maria participated in a save and rescue exercise with the U.S Navy, U.S Marine Corps, and U.S Airforce.  Could you elaborate on this joint exercise?

As noted in the introduction above, the relationship between EUNAVFOR and the US forces deployed in the region is strong, trusting and permanent. These relations are particularly notable with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF HOA), whose HQ is in Djibouti (Djibouti), and the US units associated with the Combined Maritime Force (CMF), whose HQ is in Manama (Bahrain).

Thanks to these partnerships, multitudes of joint activities are realized. For example, on 2 December, ESPS “Santa María” took part in exercise “Bullshark” along with US CJTF HOA, together with the FFDJ (French Forces in Djibouti) and the Djibouti Coast Guard. The Spanish Special Operations Maritime Task Unit performed a “Personnel Recovery” drill in Djibouti territorial waters and inland. This kind of exercises assure the complementarity of efforts with the US forces and rest of maritime security actors in the area and have become one of the distinctive traits of Atalanta’s coordination with CJTF HOA.

And how such a close partnership benefits the both sides?

Our joint actions allow our units to be fully aware of mutual tactics, techniques and procedures (LTT), creating a deep relationship of trust and support. In the example above, a “Personnel Recovery” drill will allow the synchronization between the participating units in a real case to be as appropriate, fast and precise as possible, allowing the best possible chance of success.

Q 3: In November 2022, the EU NAVFOR in partnership with Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) hosted the 50th SHADE Conference in Bahrein. What were the envisaged goals to be accomplished with this forum?

On 16th and 17th November, the 50th iteration of the SHADE conference (Shared Information and De-confliction) was held in Manama (Bahrain), organized by EU NAVFOR Atalanta and co-chaired by the Combined Maritime Forces. So again, a very close cooperation with U.S. forces.

Since its inception in 2009, this forum has become the major platform for de-conflicting the operational activities of the naval forces in the region. Indeed, it is a unique meeting to share information with representatives of the international shipping industry, countries (Oman, India, Pakistan, China, Republic of Korea), international (IMO) and regional organizations (Djibouti Code of Conduct/Jeddah Amendment, Contact Group on Illicit Maritime Activities), and the academia (University of Copenhagen). Thanks to the different workshops and the final plenary session, together with the interventions of relevant attendees through the VTC platforms, these two objectives are achieved in a very productive and associative way.

Q 4: Could you give us an update of recent years challenges and achievements in suppressing piracy in the Horn of Africa and the Western Indian Ocean? And in terms of technological investments does EU NAVFOR see a need for higher investments?

In terms of the challenges, the Operation has faced the previous ATALANTA mandate came into force in January 2020, which called for the operation to become a Maritime Security Provider in the Western Indian Ocean. Once again, as on many occasions over the past 14 years, the Operation was able to adapt to new requirements. But it also adapted to the new reality, when the non-extension of UNSCR 2608, which allowed the operation to enter Somali territorial waters, was adopted.

Moreover, thanks to the valuable assistance of the EEAS and the PSC, ATALANTA was authorized in February 2022 to activate its secondary executive task of “contributing to the fight against narcotics and drug trafficking off the coast of Somalia”. We were proud to note that in a period of just a few days, eight interceptions were made and up to 12.7 tons of narcotics worth more than 250 million euros in street value were seized from criminal networks. And additionally, we continue our unstinting effort to support the Somali government and authorities in contributing to the creation of a regional maritime security architecture.

Finally, the Operation has been greatly strengthened as an integral tool of EU naval diplomacy thanks to the Strategic Operation Review or the Coordinated Maritime Presences Concept itself. Furthermore, we are very proud to confirm that Atalanta’s mandate has recently been renewed for another two years. However, this new mandate has additional challenges: an expanded area of operations; new strengthened responsibilities in the areas of IUU fishing or capacity building; the challenges posed by the unstable situation in the region, aggravated by the undesirable results of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. This framework makes our commitment stronger than ever. At the Operational and tactical level, it will be necessary to make an additional effort with our air resources, currently reduced after not continuing the P3M ORION in support to the Operation, while at the strategic level the ties and synergies between ATALANTA and EMASOH will be strengthened. The Concept of Cooperation of ATALANTA (COCOA) will be more important than ever.

And of course, at the same time, all these new demands and challenges motivate us to give our best and be able to achieve the objectives that are demanded of EU NAVFOR. Thank you very much again for giving us this opportunity and we hope to strengthen our cooperation even more if possible in the future.

See some of our recent and past interviews and articles:



The United States Navy in Operation Atalanta-1

The United States Navy in Operation Atalanta-2

Acknowledgments: Image-1 EU NAVFOR joint activity with CJTF HoA ©EU NAVFOR. Image-2 U.S Naval Replenishment Ship ‘USNS Laramie’ (center) off the Coast of Somalia, supporting Operation Atalanta. December 17, 2015 ©EU NAVFOR. The interview is subject to Copyright Law. ©EU NAVFOR/U.S Europe World Affairs.