Counter-piracy operations (Archived)

  • Last updated: 19 Dec. 2016 09:53

High levels of piracy activity in the Gulf of Aden, off the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Ocean undermined international humanitarian efforts in Africa and the safety of one of the busiest and most important maritime routes in the world – the gateway in and out of the Suez Canal – for a long time. Between 2008 and 2016, NATO helped to deter and disrupt pirate attacks, while protecting vessels and helping to increase the general level of security in the region through different military operations.

HDMS ESBERN SNARE disrupts a suspected pirate group


  • In 2008, at the request of the United Nations, NATO started to support international efforts to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, off the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Ocean with Operation Allied Provider and Allied Protector.
  • From August 2009, NATO then led Operation Ocean Shield, which helped to deter and disrupt pirate attacks, while protecting vessels and helping to increase the general level of security in the region.
  • NATO worked in close cooperation with other actors in the region including the European Union’s Operation Atalanta, the US-led Combined Task Force 151 and individual country contributors.
  • The very presence of this international naval force deterred pirates from pursuing their activities and contributed to the suppression of piracy in the region. The implementation of best management practices by the shipping industry, as well as the embarkation of armed security teams on board, also contributed to this trend.
  • With no successful piracy attacks since 2012, NATO terminated Ocean Shield on 15 December 2016. However, NATO is remaining engaged in the fight against piracy by maintaining maritime situational awareness and continuing close links with other international counter-piracy actors.
  • NATO is also maintaining its counter-piracy efforts at sea and ashore – by supporting countries in the region to build the capacity to fight piracy themselves.
  • Operation Ocean Shield (August 2009 – December 2016)

    The mission, its objectives and scope

    For a long time, piracy and armed robbery disrupted the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia, and threatened vital sea lines of communication (SLOC) and economic interests off the Horn of Africa, in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

    Building on the two previous counter-piracy missions conducted by NATO, Operation Ocean Shield initially focused on at-sea counter-piracy activities. NATO vessels conducted, for instance, helicopter surveillance missions to trace and identify ships in the area; they also helped to prevent and disrupt hijackings and to suppress armed robbery. NATO also agreed, at the request of the UN, to escort the United Nations Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) supply vessels to the harbour entrance of Mogadishu, Somalia.

    Over time, the operation evolved to respond to new piracy tactics: the March 2012 Strategic Assessment, for instance, highlighted the need to erode the pirates’ logistics and support-base by, among other things, disabling pirate vessels or skiffs, attaching tracking beacons to mother ships and allowing the use of force to disable or destroy suspected pirate or armed robber vessels. With Operation Ocean Shield, the Alliance also broadened its approach to combating piracy by offering, within means and capabilities to regional states that request it, assistance in developing their own capacity to combat piracy. In sum, NATO's role was to prevent and stop piracy through direct actions against pirates, by providing 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.

    Operation Ocean Shield was approved by the North Atlantic Council on 17 August 2009 and it was terminated on 15 December 2016.

    Composition and command of NATO’s naval support

    NATO worked hand in hand with the European Union’s Atalanta, the US-led Combined Task Force 151 and with independent deployers such as China, Japan and South Korea. 

    From January 2015 onwards, NATO ships contributed to counter-piracy efforts through a “focused presence”, in line with the decision taken at the 2014 Wales Summit. This meant that assets were primarily deployed during the inter-monsoon periods (spring or autumn) and at other times if needed. During the periods without surface ships, maritime patrol aircraft continued to fly sorties, and links to situational awareness systems and counter-piracy partners remained in place. In this effort, the NATO Shipping Centre played a key role.

    Partner countries also contributed to Operation Ocean Shield, including  Australia, Colombia, New Zealand and Ukraine.

    Allied Maritime Command Headquarters Northwood (MARCOM), in the United Kingdom, provides command and control for the full spectrum of NATO’s joint maritime operations and tasks, including Operation Ocean Shield at the time. From its location in Northwood, it plans, conducts and supports joint maritime operations. It is also the Alliance's principal maritime advisor and contributes to development and transformation, engagement and outreach within its area of expertise.

    Previous rotations

    From 2009 to end 2014, Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) and Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) alternated between each other for the six-month rotations of Operation Ocean Shield. They otherwise functioned according to the operational needs of the Alliance, therefore helping to maintain optimal flexibility. SNMGs are part of NATO’s rapid-response capacity.

    June – December 2014 – SNMG1
    Commodore Aage Buur Jensen (Denmark) HDMS Absalon (flagship Denmark)
    ITS Mimbelli (Italy)
    January - June 2014 – SNMG2
    Rear Admiral Eugenio Diaz del Rio (Spain) ESPS Cristobal Colon (initially ESPS Alvaro de Bazan) (flagship Spain)
    TCG Gökçeada (Turkey)
    HNLMS Evertsen (The Netherlands)
    ITS Mimbelli (Italy)
    TCG Gelibolu (Turkey)*
    HMNZS Te Mana (New Zealand)*
    * Ships initially assigned to the rotation.
    June - December 2013 – SNMG1
    Rear Admiral Henning Amundsen (Norway) HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen (flagship, Norway)
    FF Esben Snare (Denmark)
    USS De Wert (United States)
    HNLMS Van Speijk (The Netherlands)
    Frigate UPS Hetman Sagaidachny (Ukraine)
    January-June 2013 - SNMG2
    Rear Admiral Antonio Natale (Italy) ITS San Marco (flagship, Italy)*
    USS Halyburton (United States)*
    HDMS Iver Huitfeldt (Denmark)*
    USS Nicholas (United States)
    HNLMS Van Speijk (The Netherlands)
    TCG Gokova (Turkey)
    * Ships initially assigned to the rotation.
    June- December 2012 - SNMG1
    Rear Commodore Ben Bekkering (The Netherlands) HNLMS Evertsen (flagship. The Netherlands)
    USS Taylor (United States)
    HNLMS Bruinvis (submarine, The Netherlands)
    January-June 2012 - SNMG2
    Rear Admiral Sinan Tosun (Turkey) TCG Giresun (flagship, Turkey)
    HDMS Absalon (Denm