Canadian sailors in England play critical role in protecting merchant ships
Publication date: 24 January 2013
By Margaret Campbell
On 27 November 2012, a merchant ship crossing the Indian Ocean took self-protective measures in reaction to two skiffs that were shadowing it. When the master reported the incident to the NATO Shipping Centre (NSC) in Northwood, England, the anti-piracy team based there quickly took action.
“On the basis of further information from the ship, the NSC assessment — produced in conjunction with colleagues at NATO, Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa and the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations office in Dubai — was that this was a Pirate Attack Group,” said Lieutenant-Commander Nicholas Smith of Task Force Northwood, the Canadian Forces team deployed at the NSC.
After determining that the skiffs were part of a Pirate Attack Group, the NSC proceeded to identify and warn all other vessels in the area of the danger. NATO and European Union warships also went to the area to look for the pirate vessels.
Embedded in the NATO Maritime Component Command Headquarters in Northwood, the NSC is the main link between NATO naval forces and the international shipping industry. Most NSC communications focus on the High Risk Area, the part of the world where piracy is most common, including the waters around the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden, the northern Arabian Sea, and the northwest quadrant of the Indian Ocean
Maintaining communication between NATO and the international shipping industry is critical to the success of Operation OCEAN SHIELD, NATO’s contribution to the international efforts to combat piracy. This is because the High Risk Area is roughly half the size of Canada, and only a few warships are available to combat piracy in the region.
According to LCdr Smith, the Canadian Forces contribute about 30 percent of NSC personnel. This level of participation makes Canada important to the effort to ensure communication and cooperation between military authorities and merchant skippers.
Task Force Northwood is a group of Royal Canadian Navy specialists in a staff function. Originally deployed under Operation SAIPH, the task force was integrated into Operation ARTEMIS on 31 May 2012. Operation ARTEMIS is the Canadian Forces’ current participation in maritime security and counter terrorism operations in the Arabian Sea.
The NSC leads NATO’s work to support the merchant shipping community by recognizing and mitigating the risks of maritime trade in the area along with Combined Maritime Forces, MSCHOA and UKMTO. The various organizations use a method known as ‘see and avoid’ to deter and disrupt terrorist activity.
“‘See and Avoid’ is a technique used to prevent merchant ships from encountering pirate ships in the High Risk Area,” said LCdr Smith. “The NATO Shipping Centre leads See and Avoid activities by providing guidance to ships through their website, participating in conferences and seminars, and staying in contact with individual mariners.”
The NSC recently began work on recognition guides for dhows and fishing vessels to help reassure mariners by boosting their understanding of normal patterns of life in the region.
In addition to disseminating reports of pirate attacks, the NATO Shipping Centre provides advice to affected vessels. NSC staff contact every vessel in range of an attack and ensure that warning messages are broadcast on the World Wide Navigational Warning System, according to LCdr Smith.
The speed of the NSC’s reaction contributed to the apprehension of seven pirates on 11 October 2012, by the Dutch amphibious transport ship HMNLS Rotterdam. A day earlier, the NSC issued warnings to ships off the coast of Somalia in reaction to a report of a pirate attack in that area from the master of a European fishing vessel, relayed by the Dubai office of U.K. Maritime Trade Operations.
The mission effects achieved by Task Force Northwood extend beyond protecting merchant vessels in the High Risk Area. Maintaining the safety of international shipping routes has a profound impact on the stability of the Canadian economy.
This story comes from Operation ARTEMIS
Northwood, England, 27 November 2012 — A group of naval personnel discuss fishing and other normal activities in the High Risk Area. From left to right, Cdr s.g. Stein Olav Hagalid, head of the NATO Shipping Centre; LCdr Nicholas Smith, commander of Task Force Northwood; Lt Frank Cools of the Royal Netherlands Navy; and Lt Leonard Kongshavn and LCdr Anders Lovik of the Royal Norwegian Navy. (Photo NATO Shipping Centre 1 by: Mark Rawlings, Carillion Defence)
Northwood, England, 27 November 2012 — Lt(N) Clark Northey of Task Force Northwood works with Sgt Tom Stingwell of the Royal Air Force in the NATO Shipping Centre. (Photo NATO Shipping Centre 2 by: Mark Rawlings, Carillion Defence)
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