Attendees at the IQPC Offshore Patrol Vessels Middle East 2013 Conference agree that what happens at sea in the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East has implications that ripple, or more correctly rumble, throughout the globe. Speakers and panelists underscored the importance of maritime domain awareness and security for military, commercial, legal, and environmental reasons, and how they are all connected.
The conference at the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi is being attended by naval, coast guard, security, and other maritime and military professionals. The event is being chaired by Rear Adm. (R) Ahmed Al Sabab Al Teneiji, former chief of naval forces for the UAE Navy.
In a keynote address, Maj. Gen. (R) Ahmad Yusuf Al Mulla, advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense of Kuwait, said that the next 20 years will see rapid change, instability from religious and ethnic tensions, and competition for all kinds of resources, thus prompting a need to share information and resources. The Iran Revolutionary Guard Navy has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, creating what he called a “dangerous situation.” But, he said, “We can’t be held to ransom by threats.”
“This region is of strategic importance,” said Cmdre. Keith Blount RN, U.K. Maritime Component commander and deputy commander Combined Maritime Forces, based in Bahrain. “About a $1 trillion [USD] worth of trade passes through Gulf of Aden each year.
“It’s a huge area, and a huge challenge. This is a team sport. No one nation can do it alone.”
Noting the presence of Vice Adm. Osama El-Gendy, Chief of Naval Forces for the Egyptian Navy, Blount had praise for the Egyptian Navy in protecting the Suez Canal and Bab el Mandeb strait that separates the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean.
Pakistan sits just outside the entrance to the Arabian Gulf and astride the “world’s energy highways,” said Rear Adm. Ather Mukhtar SI(M), director general of the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency.
Maritime security in the region is especially challenging, Mukhtar said, as after 9/11, poor governance, social injustice, and interstate security disputes resulted in a volatile regional security matrix.
“Our job is to protect Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone and ensure free flow of commerce for all nations,” Mukhtar said. “It’s important for the global economy.”
Mukhtar pointed out that nations like Pakistan and other countries, even those far from the Gulf, have contributed to naval anti-piracy patrols, and in many cases contributing and even commanding coalition task forces. Such task forces have been conducted under the auspices of NATO, the European Union (EU), and the Combined Maritime Forces. Additionally, individual nations have conducted deployments to the region to counter the piracy threat, but have worked out cooperative strategies to make all the forces more effective.
According to Col. Martin Cauchi-Inglott from Malta’s Defense Force, branch chief and assistant chief of staff for external relations on the EU Military Staff, the EU is conducting three such multinational operations, including EU NAVFOR Atalanta, EUTM Somalia, and EUCAP Nestor. In Atalanta, EU NAVFOR’s mandate is to protect World Food Programme vessels delivering aid to displaced persons in Somalia and protect African Union Mission in Somalia shipping. “We are dedicated to the detection, deterrence, prevention, and repression of piracy,” Cauchi-Inglott said.
And, he added, naval patrols and the increase of armed security aboard ships have reduced the number of successful pirate attacks. “But diminished piracy success should not be misinterpreted. There are still 50 crew members being held for ransom. The pirates are adapting to opportunities and challenges.”
In delivering his keynote address, Vice Adm. John W Miller, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. Fifth Fleet and the Combined Maritime Forces, said piracy has become an area of agreement among nations. “No one likes piracy,” Miller said. “But I’m not sure you ever reach an end-state on piracy.”
And while he agreed that the multinational response to piracy has been effective, the number of nations involved is actually growing. During his remarks, Miller announced that the Yemeni coast guard had just accepted an invitation to be the 30th member of Combined Maritime Forces.
The conference attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors included a number of ship builders, systems, and service providers.
Dr. Khaled Al Mazrouei, CEO of Abu Dhabi Ship Building, said 80 million people live on or nearby the Arabian Gulf, which had become a “commercial superhighway.” He discussed the importance of building relationships with industrial stakeholders and military services. “The navies and coast guards are not customers, but active partners.”
“No shipyard can or should do all required functions alone,” Al Mazrouei said.
Taking place in the busy Arabian Gulf port city of Abu Dhabi, the conference is examining security challenges and priorities through the Middle East, Africa, and the world. The third and final day of the conference will focus on coastal surveillance.
Edward Lundquist is a retired U.S. Navy captain who has written extensively on maritime, naval and security issues. He is the moderator of OPV Middle East 2013.