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 Deployments and operations




The European Union is concerned with the effect of Somali-based piracy and  armed robbery at sea off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean. Somali-based piracy is characterised by criminals taking control of vessels transiting the High Risk Area in the Region and extorting ransom money for the crew, the vessel and cargo: this bears all the features of organised crime. Crews held hostage by pirates often face a prolonged period of captivity, the average being 5 months, although some hostages have been held for almost three years. Moreover, piracy impacts on international trade and maritime security and on the economic activities and security of countries in the region.

As a result, and as part of its Integrated Approach to Somalia, the EU launched the European Union Naval Force ATALANTA (EU NAVFOR) in December 2008 within the framework of the European Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and in accordance with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and International Law.


Under EU Council Joint Action 851, which is based on various UN resolutions, Operation ATALANTA:

  • Protects vessels of the World Food Programme (WFP), African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and other vulnerable shipping.
  • Deters, Prevents and Represses piracy and armed robbery at sea.
  • Monitors fishing activities off the coast of Somalia.
  • Supports other EU missions and international organisations working to strengthen maritime security and capacity in the region.

On 01.01.2021, Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/2188 entered into force, which extends the mandate of the European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta for another two years, until 31 December 2022.

The new mandate also includes some new tasks reinforcing ATALANTA´s role as a maritime security provider in the area and built on its current success in countering piracy and protecting WFP and other vulnerable vessels.

Hence, as of 01.01.21, new non-executive tasks such as IUU fishing, drugs, weapons and charcoal trafficking will be implemented, whilst preparing for the formalisation of the executive tasks regarding illegal drugs and weapons trafficking, which will be enforced in a specific area of the Gulf of Aden, once the decision to activate these tasks is taken by the appropriate EU authorities.

These adjustments will increase the Operation’s Maritime Domain Awareness, resulting in a more efficient counterpiracy mission and reinforcing EU NAVFOR´s role as a maritime security provider in line with the objectives of the EU Maritime Security Strategy. They will also reassure the Shipping Industry in supporting freedom of navigation and trade.

The decision was taken based on a holistic and coordinated strategic review of CSDP engagement in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, with the aim to consolidate and strengthen the EU response by further  developing the security context and enhancing its role as a security provider, in the context of the EU Global Strategy for the foreign and security policy of the European Unión.

Frigate 'Numancia'

Data collated since 2008 demonstrate that EU NAVFOR, in co-operation with her counter-piracy partners, has become highly effective in preventing attacks before they happen.

Taken together, intelligence-led operations, a robust and proactive stance, as well as the continued effort to impress upon the maritime industry and the merchant community the importance of self-protection measures, have decreased the success rate of those attacks which are mounted.

At the height of Somali piracy in January 2011, 736 hostages and 32 ships were being held by pirates. By October 2016 that number has dropped to no hostages and ships being held.

Since the launch of the Operation in 2008, EU NAVFOR – Operation ATALANTA has:

  • Had a 100% success rate in providing protection to WFP vessels delivering food / aid to the Somali people and to AMISOM shipments critical to the success of the African Union operation in Somalia.
  • Ensured the protection of other vulnerable shipping within the IRTC and the High Risk Area.
  • Contributed to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia.
  • Transferred suspected pirates to competent authorities with a view to their prosecution and conviction as a result of its close co-operation with regional governments such as those of The Republic of the Seychelles, Mauritius and Kenya.

Moreover, EU NAVFOR has conducted and supported numerous Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) rescue missions in the area, helping local, regional and international trading and fishing vessels in distress.


EU NAVFOR operates in an Area of Operations covering the Southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and a large part of the Indian Ocean, including the Seychelles, Mauritius and Comoros. The Area of Operations also includes the Somali coastal territory, as well as its territorial and internal waters. This represents an area of about 4,700,000 square nautical miles (approximately 8,700,000 square kilometres).

Within the Area of Operations, EU NAVFOR units conduct tasks in accordance with the Mandate. Close co-operation with WFP and AMISOM ensures that no vessel transporting humanitarian aid (or logistics for the African Union mission) will travel unprotected along the Somali coastline.

EU NAVFOR warships also conduct patrols in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Furthermore, warships and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) conduct reconnaissance and surveillance operations. Warships and their boarding teams routinely conduct visual or physical checks of vessels transiting the High Risk Area.

Meetings with local seafarers, or ‘friendly approaches’, are conducted to gather a better understanding of maritime practices by talking with the crews of fishing and trading vessels in the region and to make ships’ masters aware of the Best Management Practices (BMP) for protection against Somali-based piracy, i.e. self-protection measures.

A significant objective of EU NAVFOR is the deterrence and disruption of acts of piracy and armed robbery on the high seas. Warships apprehend suspected pirates following intelligence reports of pirate activity or sightings by merchant vessels and MPRAs.

When EU NAVFOR assets locate suspicious vessels, and further investigation confirms the suspicion, the pirate groups will be disrupted. This means action will be taken in order to render a suspected group incapable of further pirate operations. Suspected pirates may be detained with the aim to transfer them to competent national authorities for prosecution. Their equipment is often confiscated for evidence purposes. A disruption of a pirate logistics dump was also carried out on the Somali coastline as part of a focused and deliberate operation in May 2012.

In addition, EU NAVFOR warships regularly come to the aid of vessels in distress, either because of a pirate attack or because the vessel is otherwise in an emergency situation at sea.

EU NAVFOR assets also support UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s programmes to monitor fishing activity in the area.


EU NAVFOR is based on Decisions by the Council of the European Union in accordance with relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and International Law.

Detention of Suspected Pirates

In the Area of Operations, EU NAVFOR units can arrest, detain and transfer persons suspected of intending to commit, committing, or having committed acts of piracy or armed robbery at sea.

EU NAVFOR assets can seize vessels of suspected pirates or armed robbers, vessels captured by an act of piracy or armed robbery at sea, and such vessels which are in the hands of the pirates or armed robbers, as well as the property on board.

The suspects can be prosecuted by an EU Member State, by Regional States, or by any other Third States with which the EU has agreements, and which wishes to exercise its jurisdiction over the suspected pirates. Suspected pirates may not be transferred to a Third State unless conditions relevant to International Law, notably International Law on Human Rights, are met

Spain's involvement

Operation Atalanta is part of the commitment undertaken by Spain, under the EU flag, in its effort to maintain security in the Gulf of Aden and Somalia waters, by protecting the World Food Programme protecting the ships of the World Food Programme, the ships of the UN misión for Somalia (AMISOM) and maintaining the security of vulnerable maritime traffic..

The transfer of the Operational Headquarters (OHQ) from the British city of Northwood to the Rota Naval Base, in Cadiz, was formalized on  the March 29, 2019, following the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Since its beginning in 2008, Operation Atalanta contributes to increase security in the Indian Ocean. For that purpose, it executes maritime surveillance activities with the aim of preventing and stopping possible acts of piracy; it collaborates in monitoring fishing activities in the Somali coast and assures food delivery from the World Food Programme (WFP). Spain, since its inception, has continuously participated in this mission by providing several naval and air resources to the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR).

The Commander of the Operation is in charge of the OHQ, ready to be employed at any time and to exercise command of any operation or mision under the Common Security and Defence Policy. Vice Admiral José María Nuñez Torrente was appointed ES-OHQ Commander on April, 21, 2021 in Rota.

Spain, contributes to the Operation Atalanta with roughly 375 troops and the following assets:

  • One Frigate
  • Orión Detachment in Yibuti; including a P-3 'Orión' aircraft and up to 60 airmen belonging to the Spanish Air Force.
  • OHQ Rota.


  • September 22nd. The 44th contingent begins surveillance and reconnaissance work in the Indian Ocean, colonel Pedro Luis Pablo Asensio is the new head of DAT 'Orion'.
  • June 16th. ESP frigate F-83 'Numancia' hands over from ESPS 'Canarias' within EUNAVFOR ATALANTA.
  • May 18th. The 43rd continent of the DAT 'Orion' begins its surveillance work, colonel Fco. José Vela García is its chief.
  • February 15th. Spanish ESPS 'Canarias' hands over from frigate 'Victoria' as Atalanta's new flagship.
  • January 17th. 42st Air Force rotation hands over within the 'Marfil' Detachment.


  • October 16th. Frigate 'Victoria' hand over from frigate 'Navarra' as Atalanta's Flagship. 
  • September 20th. 41st Air Force rotation hands over within the 'Marfil' Detachment.
  • August 5th. Spanish rear admiral Alejandro Cuerda Lorenzo takes over the command of the naval and air units involved in Operation 'Atalanta'.
  • July 15th and 16. ESP CHOD visits Spanish troops deployed in Operation 'Atalanta'.
  • June 3th. Frigate 'Navarra' begins its activities as part of EUNAVFOR 'Atalanta'.
  • April 21st. Vice admiral José María Núñez Torrente takes over from vice admiral Eugenio Díaz del Río Jáudenes as ES-OHQ in Rota.
  • April 20th. Spanish Air Force replaces DAT 'Orion' P-3 aircraft, to keep countering piracy within operation Atalanta.
  • February 19th. vice admiral Eugenio Díaz del Río Jáudenes takes over ES-OHQ command from major general Antonio Planells Palau in Rota.
  • February 15th. Spanish vessel 'Castilla' joins EUNAVFOR ATALANATA as Operation's flagship.
  • January 1st. Under CFSP Decision 2020/2188, mandate of EU NAVFOR Somalia is extended until December 31, 2022.


  • December 16th. Spanish CHOD visits frigate 'Reina Sofía' and Air Detachment 'Orión'
  • October 15th. Frigate “Reina Sofía” relieves frigate “Santa María” in the operation Atalanta in the waters of the Indian Ocean.
  • September 20th. A P3 from the 22nd group takes off from the French base in Djibouti bound for Spain, carrying airmen from the 71st rotation of the 'Orion' detachment, within the framework of the EU Naval Force's Operation Atalanta in Somalia.
  • September 20th.  An A310 from the 45th group lands in Djibouti with the personnel belonging to the 38th contingent assigned to the ‘Orion’ detachment which will carry out the relevant missions within Operation Atalanta.
  • August 27th. Force change of command of "Operation Atalanta". Rear Admiral Ignacio Villanueva hands over command to his Italian counterpart, who will act as commander from the frigate "Luigi Rizzo"
  • July 26th. A P3 airplane from Spain lands in Djibouti carrying airmen belonging to the 71st rotation of Detachment 'ORION' to keep carrying out their duties within Operation 'ATALANTA'.
  • May 27th. The 37th contingent of Detachment 'ORION' takes over within Operation ‘ATALANTA’.  Spanish Armed Forces keep their commitment with the 'ATALANTA' despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • May 6th. Spain takes command of Operation ‘ATALANTA’. Rear Admiral Ignacio Villanueva Serrano takes over from the Spanish frigate ‘Numancia’.
  • February 17th. The frigate 'Numancia' took over from the 'Victory' in Djibouti. This is the third time that this Navy vessel is deployed in the European Union operation.
  • February 4th. Orion detachment, deployed in Djibouti; transfer of authority between the 68th and 69th rotations.


  • July 24. The 35th Contingent takes full responsibility for the “Orión” detachment in Yibuti.
  • July 23. “Canarias” frigate takes over from “Navarra” frigate.
  • March 27. The 34th Contingent of the Spanish Air Force Orión Detachment has taken over command in Djibouti. The new contingent, whose relief overlaps the 64th rotation, is composed by 60 soldiers and is under the command of Lieutenant colonel Jaime Peñuela, replacing Lieutenant colonel Marín Rodríguez.
  • On 10th March, FFG (F85) “Navarra” frigate is deployed, taking over from “Relámpago” meteoro-class offshore patrol vessel (BAM in Spanish). From 10th March to 23rd July, Spain has taken over the command of the Force Headquarters (FHQ) from the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean Operation, leading from the F-85 Navarra, under the command of Rear Admiral Ricardo Atanasio Hernández López.


  • December 6. “Relámpago” meteoro-class offshore patrol vessel (BAM) takes over from “Castilla” amphibious assault ship (BAA in Spanish), and it has been integrated into the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) for its participation in operation Atalanta against piracy. “Relámpago” has stayed in the area of operations in the Indian Ocean until March.
  • August 6. Spain takes over the Force command by using the amphibious assault ship as a command ship.
  • July 30. The EU Council extends the command of operation Atalanta, EU NAVFOR Somalia until 31st December 2020. On 29th March 2019, the Council also decided to relocate the operating headquarters of the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) from Northwood (UK) to Rota (Spain). On the same date, Vice admiral Antonio Martorell Lacave of the Spanish Army was appointed as the new Operation Commander. Both the relocation and change of command were necessary due to the UK decision to leave the EU.
  • April 23. “Meteoro” meteoro-class offshore patrol vessel (BAM), whose military base is located in the Arsenal of Las Palmas, has taken over from “Patiño” replenishment oiler (BAC in Spanish) within the framework of the operation Atalanta.


  • December 28. Participation is extended till 31st December 2018. Up to 375 troops take part in the operation.
  • February 24. Spain takes the command of the operation till 27th July. “Galicia” amphibious assault ship acts as a flagship.


  • April 6. Spain takes over the Force command of the operation till 6th August. “Galicia” amphibious assault ship acts as the command ship.


  • December 6. Spain takes over the command of the operation till 6th April 2013. “Méndez Núñez” frigate acts as the command ship.
  • August. For the first time in the Indian Ocean, Spain deploys “Relámpago”, one of its new offshore patrol vessels.


  • September 10. “Galicia” ship releases a French citizen and arrests the hijackers.
  • September 5. Spain takes over the Force command of operation Atalanta.


  • December 14. Spain takes over the command of operation Atalanta.
  • February 25: Atalanta´s functions are extended, including port and pirate´s headquarters control.


  • October 2. Hijacking of the Basque fishing “Alakrana”. Spain sent a frigate to the south to protect the tuna fleet.
  • April 6. Our country takes over for the first time the Force command.
  • January 23. Spain sent the first ship to the area, “Victoria” frigate.
  • January 23. The Council of Ministers approves Spanish participation in the operation.
  • January 21. The Congress of Deputies authorizes sending a Spanish contingent to Atalanta.


  • December 8. Operation Atalanta is started.
  • November 10. The European Union approves the creation of a naval air force.
  • September 23. “Orión” maritime surveillance aircraft P-3 is sent by Spain to Djibouti.



  • Almirante Cortes Lopes  y  almirante Marcelo Correia

    Ceremonia de relevo entre las 41 y 42 rotaciones del Estado Mayor embarcable de la Operación ‘Atalanta’

    Ceremonia de relevo entre las 41 y 42 rotaciones del Estado Mayor embarcable de la Operación ‘Atalanta’


    En Yibuti

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  • Medical team on board

    The frigate 'Santa Maria' (F-81) provides healthcare support to fishermen in the Indian Ocean

    The frigate 'Santa Maria' (F-81) provides healthcare support to fishermen in the Indian Ocean


    Indian Ocean

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  • The frigate 'Santa Maria' (F-81) crosses the Suez Canal

    The frigate 'Santa María' (F-81) joins Operation Atalanta

    The frigate 'Santa María' (F-81) joins Operation Atalanta



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