by Chipp Reid

Swedish Rear Admiral Jan Thörnqvist formally took command of European Union naval forces operating off Somalia April 14 at a time when pirates operating off the eastern Horn of Africa are stepping up their attacks.
Thörnqvist replaced Italian Rear Admiral Giovanni Gunniero as operational commander of Task 465, the official name of the EU forces patrolling off Somalia and in the Indian Ocean. British Admiral Ray Hudson is the overall director of Operation Atalanta. Hudson commands the operation from his headquarters in Northwood, England.
“Operation Atalanta is, and will continue to be, a very important operation, foremost from a humanitarian perspective. Our military effort will therefore contribute to generating relief for those who suffer in Somalia and security for seafarers sailing the waters off Somalia,” Thörnqvist said.
HMS Carlskrona, the largest ship in the Swedish Navy, is a new command vessel of the EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR). In addition to her crew and Thörnqvist’s staff, the ship carries a pair of Swedish Royal Marine boarding parties that specialize in shipboard operations. They are likely to be busy.
“We know this is the time when the pirates are most active,” Thörnqvist said. “There are two periods when they really come out and that is after the monsoon seasons, so from April until about July, we expect a lot of activity.”


Activity came early
The day after he arrived on station, the EU force attacked and destroyed a pirate “mother ship” in the Indian Ocean. Mother ships are often larger fishing boats or hijacked vessels from which the pirates operate small skiffs. Thörnqvist said there are several tell-tale signs a boat is a pirate vessel and not a simple fishing boat.
“They have to carry a lot of fuel, so one of things we will look for are barrels, whether they are empty or full,” he said. “Pirate boats also usually carry ladders (for boarding vessels). You don’t need ladders to catch fish.”
The admiral said the most obvious sign a boat crew is really pirates is the weapons. “They can be quite well-armed,” he said. “They carry everything from light machine guns to RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades).”
Sweden had a presence with the current EU force before Thörnqvist arrived. A Swedish Navy patrol aircraft has been flying out of Dijbouti in support of the EU operation and was instrumental in thwarting a pair of pirate attacks in late March, earning the praise of then-commander Admiral Gunniero.
During the formal change of command ceremony, Thörnqvist praised the work of Gunniero, who maintained the force’s perfect record of escorting vessels carrying food into Mogadishu and supplies for the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. Pirates have yet to successfully attack a vessel from those programs while they are under EU protection.
“I am very proud to be entrusted with the task of commanding Task Force 465,” Thörnqvist said as Gunniero handed over the command. “I am confident in doing this important job together with my multinational staff afloat, including the crew onboard Carlskrona, the other EU NAVFOR units and our logistic support in Djibouti.”
Thörnqvist’s stint in command of the EU NAVFOR runs until August.

More on the Rear Admiral's assignment:
On Sweden's earlier successful presence in the region: