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Combating maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia: Action by France

The fight against piracy in numbers :

- 81.000 tons of food aid safely transported to Somalia by the WFP thanks to the Atalanta operation.

- 71 pirates detained by French forces in the course of nine operations carried out since April 2008.

  • Piracy: a growing phenomenon
    Almost 25,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. The pirates’ area of operation is extending farther and farther off the coast of Somalia. They operate across a vast area four times the size of France, from the Gulf of Aden to the exclusive economic zone of the Seychelles.

The number of attacks is increasing :

- 2007 : 35 attacks, 23 of them thwarted;
- 2008 : 165 attacks, 122 of them thwarted ;
- 2009 : 74 attacks, 59 of them thwarted (as of April 17, 2009).

The pirates are using increasingly sophisticated and violent means. The Somalis are the first to suffer from the pirates’ actions, which are targeting ships carrying humanitarian aid in particular. The situation impacts the whole of the international community.

Le Ponant sous escorte en route vers Djibouti

Le Ponant under escort on its way to Djibouti Retour à la table des matières

France is mobilised :

"We are no longer faced with isolated cases but with a real criminal industry. It jeopardizes fundamental freedoms, of movement and of international trade (…). I call on the international community to take action and participate in the safety of maritime travel and in the protection of people in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia." President Sarkozy, September 16, 2008.

  • The legal framework:

France played a key role in having the Security Council deal with this issue. During 2008, resolutions 1816, 1838, 1846, and 1851 allowed Member States to intervene in the territorial waters of Somalia in order to combat piracy as they would have done in the high seas, thanks to patrols in dangerous areas or, if need be, by intervening directly against pirates.

A notification procedure was set up by the Somali authorities and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

  • The military framework:

As was announced by the French President in September 2007, France became the first country to protect the transport by the World Food Programme (WFP) of humanitarian aid to Somalia, in November 2007. The Security Council encouraged this initiative through resolution 1814 (2008).

France is also an active participant in the international contact group on the fight against piracy which was set up in January 2009 to improve coordination between the many States and organizations participating in the fight against piracy (EU, USA, NATO, as well as countries such as China, India, Russia and South Korea).


The French frigate Nivôse taking part in the European Atalanta operation Retour à la table des matières

The EU Atalanta operation

Pursuant to the Security Council resolutions, France has mobilized significant operational support through the European Union operation Atalanta, the first European and Security Defense Policy naval operation.

- 9 States are working with the deployed forces within the framework of this operation and this group should soon increase in size.

- France participates in Atalanta with the permanent deployment of a frigate during the whole operation and the participation of a reconnaissance airplane based in Djibouti. France also lends logistical support to the operation with its pre-positioned forces in Djibouti.

  • Significant results

In all, France has carried out nine operations against pirates since April 2008, during which 71 pirates were detained (including 11 during the most recent operation on April 15) and 3 were killed.

On three occasions, French forces have had to intervene to protect French citizens taken hostage by pirates (Ponant, Carré d’As, Tanit). Of the 71 pirates who were detained, 15 are now in France. The others were handed over to the appropriate authorities (in Puntland or Kenya) and will face legal proceedings.

All the ships that requested protection through Atalanta and that observed shipping instructions all passed through the Gulf of Aden safely, and no WFP shipment protected by Atalanta has been captured.

Interception d'un skiff d'assaut par l'équipe du Nivôse

Interception of a pirate assault skiff by the Nivôse crew Retour à la table des matières

  • The need for a political solution

A military response will not suffice. The international community’s goal is to reestablish the rule of law in Somalia by guaranteeing the Somali authorities conditions for successful political dialogue and strengthening their capacity to exercise their governing powers.

To this end, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will take part in the international meeting on Somalia on April 23, 2009 in Brussels, proposed by the United Nations and the African Union.

(Last update : 04/20/2009)

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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU