On Dec. 10, Lithuania’s Minister of National Defense Juozas Olekas and Chief of Defense of Lithuania Lieutenant General Arvydas Pocius attended a formal homecoming ceremony at the Vytautas the Great War Museum in Kaunas and presented Medals for Deployment on International Missions to the 19 Lithuanian troops that had returned from the European Union-led efforts against piracy and armed robbery at sea Operation ATALANTA off the Somali coast, reports ELTA.
The Lithuanian troops forming the Autonomous Vessel Protection Detachment (AVPD) had been protecting a World Food Program (WFP) chartered vessel delivering humanitarian assistance to Somalia from pirate attacks for 4 months.
"Thank you for completing this mission honorably because that is what Lithuania needs, the entire international community needs. You have not only helped deliver humanitarian aid to the ones most in need by protecting this vessel, but have also contributed to the EU's efforts of creating a safer environment, and ensuring safe navigation in the region of Africa," said Minister of National Defense Olekas. He also thanked the troops' families for their patience when waiting for their family members to come back from the mission.
During a tour of duty of the Lithuanian AVPD the WFP vessel delivered more than 24,000 tons of humanitarian assistance to the people in Somalia. Under Lithuanian protection the ship was able to sail in the high-risk zone (the Somali Basin, the eastern part of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden) and dock safely in Somali seaports.
Chief of Defense Lt. Gen. Pocius underlined the acquired experience at the homecoming ceremony. "The Lithuanian Armed Forces have never deployed to an operation of such kind before, so your experience will be a support in future personnel training," the Chief of Defense stated when thanking the troops for their excellent service.
The AVPD was the first-ever combat unit that Lithuania had deployed in the region of Africa. It has earned high evaluations from the leadership of Operation ATALANTA.
A corresponding Serbian unit took over the protection of the WFP vessel Caroline Scan and the flag of the EU Operation ATALANTA on Dec. 1.
Nineteen Lithuanian troops served in the region of the EU-led Operation ATALANTA from this August. Sixteen infantry service members of the Lithuanian Armed Forces formed the Autonomous Vessel Protection Detachment (AVPD) to protect a WFP chartered vessel delivering humanitarian assistance to Somalia from pirate attacks. Two Lithuanian troops were deployed to Djibouti to ensure logistic provision for the Lithuanian personnel taking part in the operation. One Lithuanian officer was posted to the Dutch Operation ATALANTA flagship.
"This mission has been a challenge from the very start because we, as land personnel, joined the operation in unusual conditions, that is, afloat. I am very happy that we have completed all the tasks successfully and not only developed new skills but also gained new experience since this was the first multinational deployment for the majority in the group," said Captain Aivaras Pliatkus, head of the AVPD formed from the personnel of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Algirdas Mechanised Infantry Battalion.
One officer will continue representing Lithuania at the EU NAVFOR Operational Headquarters in Northwood, UK, after the completion of the AVPD mission.