Royal Navy Takes Part in Largest Multinational Minehunting Exercise in Gulf Region
Representatives from more than 40 nations have arrived in Bahrain to take part in the largest exercise ever staged to deal with the threat of mines in the Gulf region.
Six ships and more than 600 sailors from the Royal Navy are taking part in the fortnight-long test of the response of the world’s nations and navies should anyone try to choke the sea lanes using mines.
Thirty-five ships, diving teams and mine warfare experts from across the world accepted the invitation to the second IMCMEX – International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise – which is being staged from the Gulf to the Arabian Sea.
The aim is to show that mines pose a real and present danger to the safe passage of shipping. This was demonstrated as recently as 2011 off the coast of Libya when pro-Gaddafi forces tried to block the port of Misrata with mines, which the Royal Navy minehunter HMS Brocklesby found and dealt with.
Four of her sister Gulf-based British minehunters – HMS Ramsey, Shoreham, Quorn and Atherstone – plus Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay and new Type-45 destroyer HMS Dragon are taking part. The UK is also providing a mine warfare battle staff, diving teams, and medical experts.
The Royal Navy is joined on the exercise by other mine warfare experts from across the globe including American minehunting helicopters, specialist dive teams, warships and robot submarines.
The exercise follows the inaugural IMCMEX last September, which was billed as the biggest of its kind, although extra elements now mean this year’s exercise is on a grander scale.
Although still focused on Mine Countermeasures, it also includes Maritime Security Operations and Maritime Infrastructure Protection events, recognising that maritime security for trade, energy and commerce extends from the port of origin to the port of arrival.
IMCMEX 13 is hosted by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command / U.S. 5th Fleet and is being held in three phases: a three-day symposium on maritime infrastructure protection, an afloat operations phase, and a re-integration phase where participants discuss best practice and lessons learned for future exercises.
This year, for the first time, the exercise is being run by the International Maritime Exercise Force (IMEF), a multinational partnership of contributing nations.
The IMEF is led by a Royal Navy Commodore, Commodore Simon Ancona, who is also the United Kingdom Maritime Component Commander and Deputy Commander of the Combined Maritime Forces.
Commodore Ancona said:
“Over forty nations, 35 ships, 18 unmanned underwater vehicles and 6,500 servicemen and women are involved in this undertaking. The serials in which they are exercising are focused on an issue of fundamental importance to every nation – the maintenance of the free-flow of legitimate trade and energy at sea.
“This exercise will allow the Royal Navy to operate with partners, practising skills that are among those that define its role.
“Mine countermeasures and Maritime Security Operations are about the freedom of the seas, the arteries along which the life blood of global commerce and energy flow.”
The Mine Countermeasures element of the exercise will cover surface, underwater and airborne mine countermeasures operations, international explosive ordnance disposal training, and diving operations.
The Maritime Security Operations serials will introduce shipping escort operations and ‘visit, board, search and seizure’ elements to the exercise.
These will include representatives from the maritime shipping industry who were involved from the start of exercise planning and will play a significant role in shipping escort events.
The Maritime Infrastructure Protection portion of the exercise focuses on protecting maritime points of origin and arrival, such as ports or offshore terminals.
Cdre Ancona added:
“There is a growing realisation that shipping is vulnerable. Old lessons are being re-learned. We need to be able to fight the mine threat whenever and wherever it rears itself,” he added.
“Any interruption of the choke points of the world matters to everyone. Thirty per cent of sea-borne oil comes through the Strait of Hormuz – up to 17 million barrels a day.
“Suez, Bab al Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca are all equally important. Any blockage has an impact on world trade – and everyone feels that cold breeze.”
Vice Admiral John W. Miller, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command / Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet added:
“We are very pleased to see that more than 40 nations have joined us here to take part in this opportunity to enhance international naval capability to preserve freedom of navigation in international waterways.”
Press Release, May 16, 2013