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Operation Ocean Shield

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 Mar. 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 Aug. 17, 2009 and it was terminated on Dec. 15, 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 Jan. 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.

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