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Atalanta (Yibuti)

Operation Atalanta , within the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)

Objective : Monitoring , reporting and preventing maritime piracy

Detachments : P3 Orion and D.4 (CN-235 VIGMA) aircraft

On the 21st September, 2008, Spain decided to send a P-3 Orion aircraft belonging to the 11th Wing of the Morón de la Frontera Air Base (Seville) to the French Air Force Base BA 188 in Djibouti in the national Operation Indian Sentinel, becoming the Orion Detachment initially with 39 people, including crew and support staff.

The mission was to conduct surveillance, provide information and prevent piracy off the coast of Somalia and to protect Spanish ships navegating in the area of interest and to attend emergency calls that may occur in the area. Within Operation Indian Sentinel a total of 70 missions and 566:55 hours of flight were performed, a total of 25,800 vessels were detected and identified and the hi-jacking of three merchant ships aborted.


As of January 23rd, 2009 , Spain joined the (EU NAVFOR ) Naval Force of the European Union, renamed Operation ATALANTA, formed to collaborate with other naval forces sent to the Indian Ocean in the fight against piracy that threatens global maritime traffic and to provide security and stability to ships transiting these waters.

Escort and security is provided to ensure the safety of fishing and maritime traffic in general, an area of operations in the Indian Ocean, East of the coast of Somalia and measuring 5.2 million square kilometers (more than double extension of the Mediterranean Sea) has been established. Here, in the International Corridor in the Gulf of Aden, where the activity of potential pirate ships is fully controlled.

All information collected by the Spanish aircraft is sent to the Commander of the EU NAVFOR which has its base in Northwood (United Kingdom) and the Force Commander (rotating seat among the participating countries), who is aboard the command ship sailing in the area of operations.

The involvement of the international community is very significant, since the Gulf of Aden trade route is one of the busiest in the world. As well as Spain, naval assets from France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Italy, UK, United States, Russia, Australia, Japan, Singapore, China, Malaysia and India, among others, have contributed in the area of operations.


Since the beginning of Operation Atalanta and until early 2012, Spanish aircraft has performed more than 430 missions, totaling over 3.350 flight hours. More than 108,000 surface vessels have been detected, of which more than 290 were suspected of piracy. In this period, more than 500 military forces of the Air Force’s Orion Detachment have participated. At present the Orion Detachment consists of 52 people, with an organization formed by personnel from its Headquarters and support staff, security, health and secretariat, a hub for mission support, and air crews and aircraft maintenance crew. During these years of operation, 80 % of flight hours has been done by the P-3 Orion and 20% by the D-4.

The P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft were initially created for antisubmarine warfare purposes, but due to their flexible capacities they are now used in very different roles in the control of maritime traffic, intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, mine detection, anti-surface fighting, oceanic maritime rescue missions against drug trafficking and protection of fishing vessels.

With bases in Palma de Mallorca and Getafe, the D.4 (CN-235 VIGMA ) is a maritime surveillance aircraft produced domestically. While the mission of the aircraft in the Air Force Search and Rescue role is specially adapted to the marine environment, it is equipped with cutting edge detection and monitoring equipment, which has made it particularly suitable for the mission in the Indian Ocean.

The performance of the Spanish aircraft is greatly appreciated and valued by all naval units in the area, mainly due to its speed, autonomy and detection and tracking, but especially for the quality of information provided to the Control Center and surface units.