Operation Ocean Shield is NATO’s counter piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa. NATO has helped to deter and disrupt pirate attacks, while protecting vessels and increasing the general level of security, in the region since 2008.
NATO’s role is to provide naval escorts and deterrence while increasing cooperation with other counter piracy operations in the area in order to optimise efforts and tackle the evolving pirate trends and tactics. In June 2014, the North Atlantic Council extended this operation until the end of 2016. NATO is conducting counter-piracy activities in full complementarity with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.
COMMAND AND CONTROL
NATO’s highest decision making body, the North Atlantic Council provides political guidance for the operation. Command and Control is exercised by the NATO military chain of command, with the Supreme Allied Commander Europe having delegated operational command to Allied Maritime Command Headquarters in Northwood, United Kingdom.
All Allies contribute to the mission, either directly or indirectly, through NATO’s command structures and common funding. NATO Allies provide ships and maritime patrol aircraft to NATO Standing Maritime Groups, which in turn assigns a number of ships, on a rotational basis, to Ocean Shield.
AREA OF OPERATION
NATO naval forces operate off the Horn of Africa, including the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean up to the Strait of Hormuz. This area is greater than 2 million square miles or approximately the size of Western Europe. With the consent of Somali authorities, NATO vessels may enter the territorial waters of Somalia. Operations on Somali land are not part of the NATO mandate.
NATO vessels conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions to verify the activity of shipping off the coast of Somalia, separating out legitimate maritime traffic from suspected pirate vessels. Commercial ships that are transiting the area are monitored and in many cases escorted to ensure their safe passage. The shipping industry is in regular contact with NATO and the other counter piracy operations through the NATO Shipping Centre, where pirate activity can be reported and shared to prevent attacks and enhance situational awareness of the maritime environment. NATO ships also actively pursue suspected pirate ships to prevent them from staging attacks. NATO boarding teams can board a suspect vessel to determine if pirates are on board. NATO vessels can also use force to stop a pirate vessel or intervene in a hijacking. Any detained pirates will be transferred as soon as possible to designated national law enforcement agencies. In addition NATO, along with its partners, has been working with the maritime community to ensure that both merchant ships and crews are aware of Best Management Practices 4 (BMP 4) which gives advice on how to protect vessels against pirate attack.
Deterrence and Disruption
In January 2013, there were no attacks, approaches or disruptions in the area. In comparison, in January 2012, there were four pirate attacks in which all were unsuccessful. Additionally, out of 80 suspected pirates captured by counter piracy forces, 59 were captured by NATO ships. In January 2011, there were 29 attacks and six ships were captured.