Admiral sees it all in first month in command.
The Swedish commander of the European Union Naval Force off Somalia says he believes his first month in command of Operation Atalanta has gone well. “I think we have achieved as much as we can. We have... done well in our mission."
by Chipp Reid
One month after assuming command of the European Union Naval Force off Somalia, Rear Admiral Jan Thörnqvist of the Royal Swedish Navy has pretty much done a little bit of everything, from ramping up the fight against piracy to personally escorting United Nations vessels.
Thörnqvist took over Task Force 465, the operational arm of the EUNAVFOR on April 14 from Italian Admiral Giovanni Gumiero. A former mine warfare expert, the Swede’s arrival coincided with an explosion of pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean as the monsoon season came to an end. Thornqvist arrived off Somalia with a mandate from overall commander Admiral Peter Hudson of the British Royal Navy to take the fight to the pirates that infest the coast of the eastern Horn of Africa.
“We have made progress in the new EU NAVFOR tactics, stopping suspected pirates closer to shore, before they get out in the high seas and do outrages” Thörnqvist said in an interview posted on the EUNAVFOR Web site.
Under Thörnqvist’s command, the EUNAVFOR has disrupted 10 pirate action groups (PAGs) and sank eight whalers, which often act as mother ship for smaller pirate vessels. However, as the EU changes its tactics, so, too do the pirates, Thörnqvist said. Somali buccaneers are now operating further and further into the Indian Ocean, sometimes closer to India than to Somalia. They have also stepped up their attacks. According to the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Center in London, the total number of reported attacks is up 150 percent, but actual hijackings are actually down 25 percent in the EU area of operations.
“The pirates are sending out more people in the high seas. Their plan is apparently to do a high number of attacks in multiple areas but we have successfully countered their actions by our disruptions,” Thornqvist said.
The Swedish Admiral, in his first month in command, has also continued the force’s perfect record of escorting United National vessels without mishap. EU warships conducted six escorts of World Food Program vessels into Mogadishu and seven escorts of supply ships for the African Union military force operating in Darfur (ANISOM). No U.N. ship has come under attack since the EUNAVFOR began escorting its vessels in 2009.
HMS Carlskrona in operation
Thörnqvist himself commanded the escort of two U.N. vessels on May 16 when his flagship, the HMS Carlskrona, brought the merchant vessels Rozen and Dream-H, sailing for UN World Food Program with humanitarian aid to displaced persons in Somalia, into Mogadishu. It marked the first time the EU flagship took on an operation capacity.
Carlskrona, the largest ship in the Royal Swedish Navy, underwent an expensive refit in 2006 that turned the former mine warfare vessel into an Ocean Patrol Vessel. Carlskrona carries a helicopter as well as Royal Marines Vessel Protection Detachment. During her first month with Operation Atalanta she has performed all the units in the force normally perform including escorts, patrolling the internationally recommended transit corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden, carrying out surveillance outside the Somali coast and boarding suspected vessels.
The escort of the Rozen and Dream-H allowed the Swedish marines to practice boarding and close-combat procedures as they exercised on both merchant vessels.
“This is our most important mission, to protect the United Nations merchant ships,” said Thörnqvist. “As for Carlskrona, we learned a lot from the deployment of the (corvettes) Stockholm and Malmö (in 2009). We have a good crew and we have very good equipment.”
Thörnqvist, who attended the United States Navy War College in Newport, R.I., has also proven adept at coordinating EU missions with those of the U.S.-led JTF 150, a NATO naval mission and individual naval units from Russia, China, India, Japan and South Korea.
“It is a big challenge to see that our resources are not on top of each other. It takes a lot of coordination,” the admiral said. “It’s a huge area, comparable in size with the USA in area that we’re going to cover. We’re trying to help each other even though we all have different mandates.”
The EU commander also said he believes his first month off Somalia has been a success on many fronts.
“I think this is something big for a small navy like Sweden,” he said. “I think we have achieved as much as we can. We have solved communications issues and done well in our mission. I am confident we will continue to success.”
The biggest issue for the Swedish troops was introduced in an earlier issue of Nordstjernan: http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/nordic/2227/