The European Union’s Operation Atalanta, the main tasks of which are protection of World Food Programme vessels delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia and the fight against piracy off the Somali coast, has been extended to December 2014 by a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
The March 23 2012 decision also extended the force's area of operations to include Somali coastal territory as well as its territorial and internal waters.
This is to enable Operation Atalanta to work directly with the Transitional Federal Government and other Somali entities to support their fight against piracy from the coastal area, EU ministers said.
In accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the Somali government has notified the UN Secretary General of its acceptance of the EU's offer for this new collaboration, the EU said.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: "Fighting piracy and its root causes is a priority of our action in the Horn of Africa.
"Operation Atalanta has made a significant contribution to this effort, in co-ordination with our international partners," Ashton said.
"Today's important decision extends Atalanta's mandate for two more years and allows it to take more robust action on the Somali coast. Despite pressure on defence budgets, EU member states thereby demonstrate their renewed commitment to this successful operation," she said.
A budget of 14.9 million euro is being provided for the common costs of the prolonged mandate.
Operation Atalanta is part of the EU's approach to tackling symptoms and root causes of piracy in the Horn of Africa and of the EU strategic framework for that region adopted in November 2011. Its headquarters are in Northwood (United Kingdom) and, since August 2011, Rear Admiral Duncan Potts of the UK Royal Navy has been Operation Commander.
On March 23, EU ministers activated the EU Operations Centre in support of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions in the Horn of Africa. This is the first activation of the EU Operations Centre.
The Operations Centre will co-ordinate and increase synergies between the three CSDP actions in the Horn of Africa, the EU said.
The EU is currently conducting two military operations – Atalanta, and EUTM Somalia, which contributes to the training of Somali security forces. It has also started operational planning for a civilian mission to strengthen maritime capacities in the region (RMCB).
The Operations Centre will provide direct support to the operations commander for the planning and conduct of the RMCB mission and facilitate coordination between EUTM and Operation Atalanta and their interaction with Brussels-based structures.
If requested, it will also support strategic planning for CSDP missions and operations in the Horn of Africa, according to a statement after the meeting of EU foreign ministers.
The Operations Centre will not have command responsibility, but will fully respect the existing chains of command, the statement said.
It will include some EU military staff, the Brussels-based support cell for the EU training mission in Somalia, the liaison team of Operation Atalanta in Brussels as well as staff seconded by member states.
The head of the EU Operations Centre will be Captain Ad van der Linde (Netherlands).
The Operations Centre, which was created in 2003, will be active for an initial duration of two years. Its activities and financing will be regularly reviewed, the statement after the ministers’ meeting said.