On 30 November 2022, the Operation Commander (OPCDR) of EU NAVFOR – Operation ATALANTA, Vice Admiral (VADM) José María Núñez Torrente chaired the Farewell Ceremony of the Spanish Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) P-3M ORION. The ceremony took place in the French 188 Air Base in Djibouti, in which the aircraft is deployed. The event is of great relevance for both, the Operation and the Spanish Armed Forces, as this is the end of service for this iconic asset. For this reason, Spanish BG Francisco J. Vidal Fernandez (Spanish Operation Command – MOPS) also attended the event.

The P-3M ORION has served for 14 years as “the eyes in the sky” of the successful Operation in the European Union. Initially joined by her German sister P-3 in the fight against piracy, the Spanish ORION took her share in expanding the Operation towards increasing its role as a Maritime Security Provider in the Region.

Some of the most relevant data that underline its contribution are the more than 11,000 flight hours in more than 1,500 sorties over the area of operations. The aircraft took part in the rescue of the Alakrana tuna boat in 2019, in operation Tribal Kat in 2011 or the release of a French citizen kidnapped by a pirate skiff in 2011. The P-3M has been permanently supported by the ORION Detachment, which over the 14 years has performed 44 rotations. Both, the detachment and the aircraft are closely linked to the 22nd Group of the Spanish Air Force, based in Moron (Spain).

The maritime surveillance capability from the air will remain intact in the operation, thanks to new assets that both Spain and France will contribute to EUNAVFOR. Furthermore, the Cooperation Concept for ATALANTA (COCOA) allows ATALANTA to share information with other MPRAs in the area, whether from the Combined Maritime Forces (Japanese and Pakistani MPRA) or the Seychelles Air Forces.

During the ceremony, the Operation Commander expressed his gratitude to the Djiboutian authorities, highlighting them as an indispensable partner. In addition, he took the opportunity to thank the French hosts for their commitment towards the operation. Finally, he praised the work done by the women and men from the ORION Detachments, making a special mention to Master Sergeant Manuel María Copano Lorenzana, Staff Sergeants Manuel López Veiga and José Miguel Mateos Hernández, injured in a terrorist attack on 24 May 2014.

“The P-3M ORION MPRA’s contribution as “the eyes of Operation Atalanta” has been crucial to the success of EUNAVFOR. It has been 14 years since the first P-3 landed in Djibouti that have decisively impacted the lives, both professionally and personally, of all the members of the 44 rotations that have served in this aircraft” stated LtCol Pedro Luis Pablo Asensio, last Detachment Commanding Officer.