Attendees at the IQPC Offshore Patrol Vessels Middle East 2013 conference, which concluded on Dec. 11, agreed that that the safety and security of maritime commerce in the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea and their approaches, is an international responsibility shared by regional and international partners.
The conference was chaired by Rear Adm. (R) Ahmed Al Sabab Al Teneiji, former chief of naval forces for the UAE Navy.
The event focused on regional security cooperation; offshore patrol vessel design, procurement, and operations; coastal surveillance; and maritime domain awareness.
Chief of Naval Forces for the Egyptian Navy Vice Adm. Osama El-Gend said the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, is one of the most important sea routes in the world, and a vital east-west connection. It is also, he said, the longest canal in the world. “Seventy percent of world trade crosses the canal.”
“Asymmetrical threats, now increasing and spanning from the West African coastline across to Central Asia, coupled to diminishing naval capabilities, particularly those of EU Member States and the U.S. military due to sequestration and re-pivoting towards Asia, emphasize the need to move from military cooperation to military collaboration,” said Col. Martin Cauchi Inglott of the Armed Forces of Malta, currently assigned to the European Union Military Staff in Brussels.
“Egyptian forces are committed to making the canal safe and secure, in cooperation with our partners,” he said.
El-Gendy described a sophisticated network of aviation assets, coastal radars, vessels on patrol and surveillance stations, networked by means of a coordination center. He also remarked that Egypt is cooperating with countries such as Saudi Arabia to secure the Red Sea.
Commander of the Bahrain Coast Guard Staff Cmdre. Ala’a Abdulla Seyadi, , talked about the challenge of small vessels that are not tracked by the Automated Information System (AIS). AIS is required by international law on vessels of 300 tons or larger. Bahrain’s coastal surveillance system seeks to identify the wooden dhows common in the Arabian Gulf, but most do not have AIS. Bahrain has 7,500 dhows alone, Seyadi said, and with the other Gulf nations combine there are many thousands more.
In delivering his keynote address, Vice Adm. John W. Miller, who commands U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), U.S. 5th Fleet and the Combined Maritime Forces, said that there has been an interesting upside to piracy, in that it has become an area of agreement among nations. “No one likes piracy,” Miller said.
While he agreed that the multinational response to piracy has been effective, the number of nations participating in coalition anti-piracy operations is actually growing. And nations such as China, Russia, India and Iran are conducing independent patrols that are nevertheless conducted with some coordination and deconfliction.
During his remarks, Miller said that while Yemen continues to be faced with both challenges and opportunities, he applauded the fact that the Yemeni Coast Guard had just accepted an invitation to be the 30th member of Combined Maritime Forces.
“No one likes piracy.”
Miller said multinational engagement is important, adding that the U.S. conducts 25 exercises with GCC nations, and a total of 60 throughout the region each year.
There are 17,000 sailors working within the NAVCENT AOR, with 10,000 at sea and 7,000 ashore, Miller said.