British Rear Admiral Duncan Potts warned that the gains made against pirates off the Horn of Africa were reversible and that the fight against piracy would only succeed once governance and security improve in Somalia.
“Yes we have increased the pressure on the pirates but I think now that we are enjoying tactical success, the importance is increasing that pressure evermore,” Potts told a news conference in Brussels.
The European Union handed the admiral new powers this year to destroy pirate equipment stashed on beaches, a tactic he used only once so far last month when a helicopter gunship struck a stockpile of skiffs in central Galmudug region.
The number of successful pirate actions began to fall last year.
Pirates hijacked 28 vessels in the first half of 2011 and only three in the second half. They have successfully attacked five ships so far this year.
Seven commercial ships and 213 sailors are in pirate hands compared to 20 vessels and 550 hostages a year ago.
Meanwhile, 1,009 pirates are facing prosecution in 20 countries while a German-Dutch team of investigators was set up in January to go after piracy financiers.
“We have achieved considerable tactical progress but the strategic context does not change, and therefore one of the risks that I have is that somehow we start to believe that the piracy issue is cracked,” he said.
The mission was short of ships late last year, a problem that was linked to budget constraints in some nations, but the operation is back to normal.
Since 2008, EU nations have deployed between four and seven combat ships off the Horn of Africa to police an area the size of the 27-nation European Union.
The Atalanta mission is part of the EU’s “comprehensive approach”, which includes financial aid to help give the strife-torn country a functioning government.
“There is no room for complacency,” said the EU special representative to the Horn of Africa, Alexander Rondos.
“This is not going to be over soon. We have to maintain the level of forces so that we can deter and contain while the operations on the ground transform the reality on the ground,” he said.