Category Archives: Current Operations

On-going Naval Ops or Maritime Current Events

Scarborough Fair

Keeping tabs on the neighbors.

While no longer making regular headlines, the stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal/Panatag Shoal/Huangyan Island continues. Since April 10th both China and the Philippines have maintained a presence in the area, but one limited to civilian agencies – the Philippines Coast Guard on one side, and the Chinese Maritime Surveillance agency on the other.

Rather than trading literal broadsides, China and the Philippines have fought this dispute mostly through the figurative variety in the diplomatic and economic spheres. Philippines President Benigno Aquino suggested exploring joint ventures in the area and sent envoys to Beijing to attempt to resolve the crisis. China meanwhile issued travel advisories for the Philippines, halted tours, scaled back commercial flights, and quarantined incoming Philippine bananas on pest-control grounds.

Both nations have issued fishing bans on the Shoal area in the past week. The Chinese most likely issued the ban because their own fishermen will stay away until monsoon rains abate in the fall, and the stay-behind surveillance ship snow have a pretext in the ban for enforcement. The Philippines, meanwhile, supposedly issued their own ban in order to protect depleted fishing stocks, but this adversely affects the economies of local fishing communities that depend on fishing the Shoal grounds year-round to make their livelihoods.

Making their case.

With personal financial stability and pride at stake, it’s no surprise that civilians at times seem readier to push the situation towards a conflict than the two nations’ governments. In addition to the wide-spread nationalism (and minor protest rallies) whipped up on both sides and given voice in online forums, some 20 protestors and camera crew planned to make the case for the Philippines by setting up a protest on the shoal itself. They were persuaded by President Aquino to allow the government negotiators in Beijing a chance to achieve a constructive outcome.

Despite what my colleague believes about the benefits of the U.S. sitting on the sidelines of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Scarborough Shoal stand-off is an apt example of how not having ratified the treaty can hamstring the U.S.’ ability to bring pressure to bear on another country (China) for failing to live up to its treaty obligations in pursuance of a peaceful and diplomatic resolution. For while the Philippines is building a case for the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), one of the UNCLOS conflict-resolution mechanisms, China, another signatory, refuses to abide by any rulings of the tribunal.

With the stand-off as a backdrop, both sides are expanding their naval forces. The Philippine navy is set to take possession of another U.S. Coast Guard vessel Tuesday, the ex-USCGC Dallas, of the same type as its current flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. The Chinese Maritime Surveillance administration is also rapidly expanding in numbers (h/t Chuck Hill – CGBlog.org). This is the agency that intervened at the Shoal and prevented the Philippine navy from arresting the Chinese fisherman whose discovery began the current stand-off. While a nation with an expansive coastline and far-flung fishing interests has legitimate needs for a competent coast guard, the continuing Scarborough Shoal stand-off is just one more illustration that ships of this agency are enforcers of state policy, and Chinese maritime state policy has been rather uncompromising of late.

Forward from the Sea…and Land

The EU agreed in March to conduct counter-piracy on land.

On the east coast of Africa and along the southern Arabian Peninsula, the U.S. has been waging a campaign against pirate and terrorist targets from naval forces offshore. Early reports today detail European militaries’ first counter-piracy operation ashore. A helicopter from EU Naval Force Somalia’s Operation Atalanta struck a pirate base camp in Somalia’s Mudug region and destroyed several pirate skiffs and other supplies stowed on a beach.

Britain’s The Telegraph gives a detailed account:

The dawn raid, launched from one of nine European warships patrolling off Somalia, was aimed at “making life as difficult for pirates on land as we’re making it at sea”, an EU military official said.

A helicopter flew low along the beach with a door gunner on mounted machine gun troops firing at the targets below.

The operation was ordered after weeks of surveillance from maritime patrol aircraft and other surveillance aircraft circling above the pirates’ known hideouts.

Best not to leave your things unattended.

Five small attack boats with powerful outboard engines were “rendered inoperable” and pirates said that the strike also hit drums of diesel and a weapons store.

The attack involved troops from several of the European navies including seven frigates currently patrolling off Somalia, from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Officials said it was “a European mission” and would not specify from which warship the strike was launched.

But not all efforts against piracy and terrorism in the region involve strikes from the sea. In addition to the use of U.S. Navy SEALS, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, naval vessels and naval aviation assets, the U.S. is also using land-based air power. A report in The Aviationist (h/t Danger Room) describes the role of the Air Force and an F-15E squadron in augmenting the drone strikes in the region. The ring around the Indian Ocean is proving to be a perfect test bed of low-intensity power projection concepts and technologies.

Happy Mothership Day!

“Mom, I’m about to go through a tunnel….”

While we Americans at CIMSEC were busy calling our mothers, taking them out to lunch, building them their own self-propelled, semi-submersibles – you know the usual Mother’s Day stuff – we didn’t want to leave you without a little reading material….so over to the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea!

 

At Information Dissemination, Chris Rawley highlights al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s use of amphibious tactics in their revenge assault for the killing of Fahd al-Quso, who helped plan the USS Cole bombing.

 

He also mentions a group of Somalis arrested on Yemen’s Socotra Island, a well-known pirate haven, who were learning to scuba dive. While he implies this may have been in preparation for a terrorist operation in Yemen, hijacking ships at anchor for profit is the more likely motivation. News sources describe the suspects as pirates rather than terrorists (but Chris is right, never hurts to be alert to new threats).

 

Nonetheless, most piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, and Somali Coast areas occur against vessels underway, (and those that don’t usually forgo the trouble of so thoroughly disguising the assault) so it would still be a notable change in tactics.

 

A mothership always loves a call from her skiffs.

Speaking of Socotra Island, gCaptain details three recent pirate attacks from at least one mothership in its vicinity. Two employed armed security teams and repelled the incoming skiffs. The third became the first oil tanker successfully taken in over a year.

 

But there’s also good news. BNO News reports the Dutch navy’s HNLMS Van Amstel’s Lynx helo spotted a dhow mothership off the Somali coast. The 11 pirates were compliant after the Dutch made radio contact, and were seized through a combination of “RHIBs, fast motorboats, [and] a special boarding unit consisting of marines” under the protection of Van Amstel’s Lynx. The operation also freed 17 Iranian fishermen hostages.

 

Meanwhile THA – Daily News describes how the Turkish navy executed a similar operation on Saturday. A helo from the frigate TCG Giresun (ex USS Antrim) spotted a hijacked vessel off the coast of Oman prompting the Giresun to launch a boarding netting 14 captured pirates and seven freed Yemeni sailors.

 

And as food for discussion – The National is reporting that Convoy Escort Programme (CEP), a British company backed by the Lloyds of London insurance family, is planning a private navy of 18 ships based in Djibouti. It will consist of 7 ex-Swedish navy fast patrol boats and 11 former offshore supply vessels. CEP will offer to escort convoys along the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor between the Red Sea and Arabian Sea – takers will forgo insurance premiums and instead be covered by CEP and its Lloyd backers.

Resource Rush

Two quick videos from Al-Jazeera English (which this week was kicked out of China) portraying two of the most important motivators in the scramble for territory in the South China Sea, oil and food. In the first, China is demonstrating increased deep-sea drilling know-how, which may mean a near-to-medium-term increase in unilateral oil exploration and drilling in contested waters.

The second video shows the impact of the stand-off at the Scarborough Shoal on Filipino fishing villages in the area.