Between 24 October – 6 November 2014 the Royal New Zealand Air Force contributed to the European Union’s counter-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta off the coast of Somalia.
This is the first time that the Royal New Zealand Air Force has participated in the EU counter-piracy mission, with its P-3K2 Orion long range surveillance aircraft conducting aerial patrols along the Somali coast and Gulf of Aden.
The contribution forms part of an on-going commitment by New Zealand to counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Before joining Operation Atalanta the New Zealand forces were deployed with the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a 29-nation-strong counter-piracy mission operating out of Bahrain.
Operation Atalanta is a multi-national EU maritime mission that was launched in December 2008 to deter acts of piracy and armed robbery within the Horn of Africa region and to protect World Food Programme ships from pirate attack as they transit the Somali coastline.
Speaking about the contribution by New Zealand, the Commander of Joint Forces, New Zealand, Major General Tim Gall, stated “We were very pleased to be part of the EU Naval Force and help in the international fight against piracy. The P-3K2 Orion crew are very experienced and the aircraft was able to conduct a wide-range of maritime surveillance operations.”
Aerial maritime patrols have proven to be an effective method of deterring piracy. The pirates know that aircraft act as the ‘eyes in the sky’ and can direct counter-piracy warships towards a pirate action group (PAG) far out to sea.
Major General Gall also stated “New Zealand is used to operating with other maritime nations and is a key surveillance partner in the Pacific. Assisting the EU Naval Force multi-national effort was a good opportunity to contribute to a large-scale operation further from home. I also know that our forces have relished the opportunity to contribute their expertise to this well-respected Task Force.”
Currently Operation Atalanta is supported by EU warships from Italy, Belgian, the Netherlands and Spain, with Spain and Germany also providing maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.