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NATO Minesweepers Deploy to Baltic Sea to Reassure Allies

A year ago, the deployment of five NATO vessels to the Baltic Sea on a mission of port visits and the hunting of undisposed World War I and World War II ordnance would be unlikely to draw statements from Supreme Allied Commander Europe or the presence of the deputy chief of staff of Allied Maritime Command. The situation in Ukraine has changed that and brought about an urgency by NATO to strengthen its support for member nations who lie along NATO’s eastern border. The deployment of the five ships that compose Standing NATO Mine Counter-Measures Group One (SNMCMG1) on April 22 is the latest NATO measure designed to do just that.

The situation in Ukraine has changed that and brought about an urgency by NATO to strengthen its support for member nations who lie along NATO’s eastern border. The deployment of the five ships that compose Standing NATO Mine Counter-Measures Group One (SNMCMG1) on April 22 is the latest NATO measure designed to do just that.

Departing from Kiel, Germany, SNMCMG1 is composed of four minesweepers and one support vessel. The flagship is the Royal Norwegian Navy support vessel HNoMS Valkyrien. One minesweeper each comes from the Royal Netherlands Navy, Royal Norwegian Navy, Belgian Navy, and the Estonian Navy. The HNLMS Makkum, HNoMS Otra, BNS Bellus, and ENS Admiral Cowan comprise the minesweepers. Royal Norwegian Navy Cmdr. Eirik Otterbu is in command of SNMCMG1.

Cmndr. Eirik Otterbu

Cmdr. Eirik Otterbu, Royal Norwegian Navy, addresses some of the crew members who compose Standing NATO Mine Counter-Measures Group One (SNMCMG1). Otterbu will command SNMCMG1 from aboard the flagship HNoMS Valkyrien. NATO photo

The multinational group was activated last week by Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Phillip Breedlove, USAF, as part of a NATO decision to strengthen the collective defense of alliance nations and to assure members worried by the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine. “SNMCMG1 has been operating in the region for more than 40 years,” said Breedlove in a NATO statement. “The group’s presence contributes to regional maritime security. During this period of tension, we felt it appropriate to deploy SNMCMG1 to the Baltic Sea as part of a broad package of actions by NATO’s maritime, air, and ground forces. Our intent is not to escalate the situation, but rather to demonstrate our strong solidarity as an alliance and increase our readiness.”

“The group’s presence contributes to regional maritime security. During this period of tension, we felt it appropriate to deploy SNMCMG1 to the Baltic Sea as part of a broad package of actions by NATO’s maritime, air, and ground forces. Our intent is not to escalate the situation, but rather to demonstrate our strong solidarity as an alliance and increase our readiness.”

Besides port visits, SNMCMG1 will participate in the disposal of ordnance from World War I and World War II. The group is also expected to take part in mine clearance operations in Latvia during Operation Open Spirit scheduled for May. The ships will, together with vessels from partner nations, hunt for mines, torpedoes and bombs laid in the Baltic during the First and Second World Wars,” said Breedlove.

Standing NATO Mine Counter-Measures Group One

The five ships that compose the multinational Standing NATO Mine Counter-Measures Group One (SNMCMG1) as they depart Kiel, Germany, April 22, 2014. Besides port visits and the ordnance disposal of World War I and World War II munitions, SNMCMG1 will also participate in the Latvia-hosted Operation Open Spirit scheduled for May. NATO photo

Allied Maritime Command’s Cmdre Arian Minderhoud, Royal Netherlands Navy, who serves as the deputy chief of staff, attended the departure ceremony. Speaking to the crew members who compose SNMCMG1, Minderhoud outline the importance of their mission. “The mission carried out by NATO’s Standing Maritime Forces contributes directly to the alliance’s key function: to ensure the security of all its members. SNMCMG1’s continued presence in the Baltic is a token of our unwavering determination to carry out this mission,” concluded Minderhoud.

“The mission carried out by NATO’s Standing Maritime Forces contributes directly to the alliance’s key function: to ensure the security of all its members. SNMCMG1’s continued presence in the Baltic is a token of our unwavering determination to carry out this mission.”

The deployment comes as NATO continues to search for ways to deescalate the situation in Ukraine. Besides a recent announcement by NATO member Canada that it will deploy six CF-18 Hornets to join NATO air-policing efforts, U.S. Army Europe announced on April 22, the deployment of forces to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...