Friday, March 20, 2009

NATO vessels deploying to the Horn of Africa

As pirates continue to attack vessels off the Horn of Africa, NATO is dispatching the newest incarnation of one of its standing maritime groups - SNMG1 - to the region. Operation Allied Protector will see warships from the United States, Canada, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal take part in counter-piracy patrols. SNMG1 is commanded by the Portuguese Navy's Rear Admiral Pereira de Cunha.

SNMG1 is expected to be on station in the Indian Ocean in April. The European and American elements are currently completing exercises in the western Mediterranean, while the Canadian component - HMCS Winnipeg - is leaving Korea after work ups with the USS John C. Stennis carrier strike group a couple of weeks ago.

The impending arrival of SNMG1 coincides with the waning months of the Spring piracy season in the region. Once the summer monsoon winds arrive, the mostly Somali pirates will take a break as the seas get too rough for their small attack boats. So the next few months offer the last opportunities to harvest the bounties awaiting them in the seas off East Africa. But the addition of the NATO flotilla will make those seas even more crowded with naval vessels seeking to combat the pirates and does raise the question, "Who's in charge out there?"

SNMG1 joins a European Union force, the American-led "multinational" task force CTF 151, as well as independently operating warships from Russia, China, India and other nations. At the very least you would think with the overlap of NATO, EU and CTF 151 there would be a more efficient means of deploying vessels within a single chain of command from countries like the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. And though no one would expect Russia or China to place their warships within the NATO or EU operations, why hasn't CTF 151 been able to coalesce into a more productive anti-piracy entity?

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