by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
During a recent visit to Europe, I visited the European Union Naval Forces (EU NAVFOR) Headquarters in Northwood, England. EU NAVFOR Chief of Staff Captain Keith Blount and his great team, including Commander Conleth Burns, Lt. Commander James Bagshaw, Merchant Naval Liaison Officer Captain Simon Church, Political Advisor Christophe Goussot, Legal Advisor Touko Raitis, and Sub-Lieutenant Steve Irwin, warmly welcomed me and briefed me on EU NAVFOR’s anti-piracy missions off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean. We discussed collaborating with SCI and other ICMA organizations to address the effects of piracy on seafarers. I was impressed with EUNAVFOR’s efforts to deter piracy and to protect seafarers from pirates.
The principle missions of EU NAVFOR’s anti-piracy operation (Operation ATALANTA) are to protect vessels delivering vital United Nations World Food Program aid to drought-stricken and displaced persons in Somalia; to protect merchant shipping off the coast of Somalia; and to strengthen stability in the region by monitoring fishing activities off the coast of Somalia.
The Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA), an important EU NAVFOR initiative, closely cooperates with the maritime industry to help protect vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. The 24/7 MSC-HOA center monitors vessels transiting through the Gulf of Aden and communicates the latest anti-piracy guidance to vessels and the maritime industry. Ship operators can greatly decrease the risks of their vessels being hijacked by pirates by reporting their movements to MSC-HOA and following MSC-HOA’s guidance. If EU NAVFOR has information about vessels’ locations, they can identify particularly vulnerable shipping routes and coordinate appropriate protection by European Union and other military forces in the area. There are twenty-six nations providing anti-piracy military forces to the Indian Ocean region.
EU NAVFOR recommends that flag states sign agreements with EU NAVFOR to allow military Vessel Protection Detachments (VPDs) aboard ships flying their flag. VPDs greatly increase EU NAVFOR’s ability to protect shipping from pirate attacks.
While most of EU NAVFOR’s activities are aimed at deterring and preventing pirate attacks, it shares SCI’s concern for seafarers who have been affected by piracy before, during and after an attack. We look forward to greater collaboration with EU NAVFOR in providing appropriate care for seafarers who have been affected by piracy.