Counter-piracy operations (2008-2016)

  • Last updated: 19 May. 2022 12:57

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 (Denmark)
    ITS Grecale (Italy)
    RFA Fort Victoria (United Kingdom)
    USS De Wert (United States)
    USS Carney (United States)*
    * Ships initially assigned to the rotation.
    June 2011-December 2011 - SNMG1
    Rear Admiral Gualtiero Mattesi (Italy) ITS Andrea Doria (flagship, Italy) 
    USS Carney (United States)
    USS De Wert (United States) 
    NRP D. Francisco De Almeida (Portugal)
    December 2010- June 2011 - SNMG2
    Commodore Michiel Hijmans (The Netherlands) HNLMS De Ruyter (flagship – The Netherlands)
    HDMS Esbern Snare (Denmark);
    TCG Gaziantep (Turkey)
    USS Laboon (United States)
    August – early December 2010 - SNMG1
    Commodore Christian Rune (Denmark) HDMS Esbern Snare (flagship, Denmark)
    HMS Montrose and RFA Fort Victoria (United Kingdom)
    USS Kauffman and USS Laboon (United States) 
    ITS Bersagliere (Italy)
    HNLMS Zeeleeuw (submarine, The Netherlands)
    March-August 2010 - SNMG2
    12 March-30 June: 
    Commodore Steve Chick (United Kingdom)
    HMS Chatham (flagship, United Kingdom)
    HS LIMNOS (Greece) - under national control from 30 May 
    ITS SCIROCCO (Italy) - under national control from 5 June 
    TCG Gelibolu (Turkey)
    USS Cole (United States)
    1st July-6 August: 
    Commodore Michiel Hijmans (The Netherlands)
    HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën (flagship, The Netherlands)
    TCG Gelibolu (Turkey)
    USS Cole (United States)
    November 2009-March 2010 - SNMG1
    Commodore Christian Rune
    (succeeded Rear Admiral Jose Pereira de Cunha (Portugal) from 25 January 2010).
    NRP Álvares Cabral (outgoing flagship, Portugal)
    HDMS Absalon (incoming flagship, Denmark)
    HMS Fredericton (Canada)
    USS Boone (United States)
    HMS Chatham (United Kingdom)
    August – November 2009 - SNMG2
    Commodore Steve Chick (United Kingdom) HS Navarinon (Greece)
    ITS Libeccio (Italy)
    TCG Gediz (Turkey)
    HMS Cornwall (United Kingdom)
    USS Donald Cook (United States)

    Standing NATO Maritime Groups

    Among NATO’s Maritime Immediate Reaction Forces there are: the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMGs) composed of SNMG1 and SNMG2; and the Standing NATO Mine Counter-Measure Groups (SNMCMG1 and SNMCMG2).

    SNMGs are a multinational, integrated maritime force made up of vessels from various Allied countries. Their composition varies and usually comprises between six and ten ships. These vessels (including their helicopters) are permanently available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from participating in exercises to actually intervening in operational missions. These groups provide NATO with a continuous maritime capability for operations and other activities in peacetime and in periods of crisis and conflict. They also help to establish Alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits to different countries, support transformation and provide a variety of maritime military capabilities to ongoing missions.

    SNMG1 and SNMG2 both come under the command of MARCOM, as do all Standing NATO Forces (i.e., SNMCMG1 and SNMCMG2) since the implementation of the new NATO Command Structure on 1 December 2012.

  • Operation Allied Protector (March-August 2009)

    The mission, its objectives and scope

    Operation Allied Protector helped to deter, defend against and disrupt pirate activities in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa. 

    From 24 March until 29 June 2009, the operation was conducted by SNMG1 vessels. SNMG1 is usually employed in the Eastern Atlantic area, but it can deploy anywhere NATO requires. The first phase of Operation Allied Protector was undertaken as the force left for NATO’s first ever deployment to South East Asia. It made a short visit to Karachi (Pakistan) on 26-27 April. However, with the increase in pirate attacks, on 24 April NATO had already decided to cancel the other two port visits to Singapore and Australia. As such, the second phase of the operation, which was meant to take place as SNMG1 made its return journey towards European waters end June, was brought forward to 1 May.

    From 29 June 2009, SNMG2 took over responsibility from SNMG1. It had conducted NATO’s first counter-piracy operation – Operation Allied Provider (see below).

    Composition and command of the naval force

    24 March-29 June 2009 - SNMG1


    Rear Admiral Jose Pereira de Cunha (Portugal)

    NRP Corte Real (flagship, Portugal) 
    HMCS Winnipeg (Canada) 
    HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën (The Netherlands) 
    SPS Blas de Lezo (Spain) 
    USS Halyburton (United States)

    29 June-August 2009 - SNMG2


    Commodore Steve Chick (United Kingdom)

    ITS Libeccio (frigate, Italy)
    HS Navarinon (frigate F461, Greece) 
    TCG Gediz (frigate F495, Turkey) 
    HMS Cornwall (frigate F99, United Kingdom) 
    USS Laboon (destroyer DDG58, United States)

  • Operation Allied Provider (October-December 2008)

    The mission, its objectives and scope

    Operation Allied Provider was responsible for naval escorts to World Food Programme (WFP) vessels and, more generally, patrolled the waters around Somalia. Alliance presence also helped to deter acts of piracy that threatened the region.

    While providing close protection for WFP vessels and patrolling routes most susceptible to criminal acts against merchant vessels, NATO ships could use force pursuant to the authorised Rules of Engagement and in compliance with relevant international and national law.

    Allied Provider was a temporary operation that was requested by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 25 September 2008. NATO provided this counter-piracy capacity in support of UN Security Council Resolutions 1814, 1816 and 1838, and in coordination with other international actors, including the European Union.

    NATO Defence Ministers agreed to respond positively to the UN’s request on 9 October, during an informal meeting held in Budapest, Hungary. Following this decision, planning started to redirect assets of SNMG2 to conduct counter-piracy duties.

    SNMG2 was already scheduled to conduct a series of Gulf port visits in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates within the framework of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI). As such, it started to transit the Suez Canal on 15 October to conduct both duties at the same time.

    Composition and command of the naval force

    At the time of the operation, SNMG2 comprised seven ships from Germany, Greece, Italy, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, of which three were assigned to Operation Allied Provider:

    • ITS Durand de la Penne (flagship, destroyer D560, Italy);
    • HS Temistokles (frigate F465, Greece);
    • HMS Cumberland (frigate F85, United Kingdom).

    The other four ships (FGS Karlsruhe-Germany; FGS Rhön-Germany; TCG Gokova-Turkey; and USS The Sullivans-USA) continued deployment to ICI countries. This was the first time a NATO-flagged force deployed to the Gulf.

    At the time of the operation, SNMG2 was commanded by Rear Admiral Giovanni Gumiero, Italian Navy, who was appointed to this post in July 2008. He reported to the Commander of Allied Component Command Maritime (CC-Mar) Naples. CC Mar Naples was one of the three Component Commands of Allied Joint Force Command Naples.