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NATO ships in UAE to forge closer ties

posted on 11/04/2011: 927 views

NATO's maritime coordination with GCC countries has come a long way since the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, launched in the Turkish capital in June 2004. As part of this initiative, the Standing NATO Maritime Mine Counter-measures Group 2 (SNMCMG2) ships are on a five-day visit to the UAE to forge closer military ties with the country's navy.

Operation Inas Bahr (friendly seas) of the group set out from Crete in January this year and the five ships of the force include the Greek flagship HS Spetsai, German FGS Herten, Greek HS Kallisto, Spanish ESPS Tajo and Italian ITS Viareggio. Their deployment will conclude in May.

The NATO vessels arrived at Jebel Ali port this morning and joint exercises with the UAE Navy are scheduled for Thursday. Social, sporting activities and media events have also been planned. The UAE naval units will conduct a passing exercise (PASSEX) at sea with the NATO group at the conclusion of the exercise. "It will be a six-hour exercise and six to eight vessels are expected to take part,” said Lt Giampiero Sanna, Assistant Staff Officer with the Italian Navy and spokesman of the group.

The SNMCMG2 is commanded by Captain Georgios Pelekanakis of the Greek Navy. "We would like to have the maximum interaction with local authorities. It is also an excellent opportunity for military dialogue to enhance understanding,” he said in a statement.

This is the first visit of the group to the UAE, according to officials. The UAE has contributed fighter aircraft to enforce the NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya.

"But this visit does not have a strategic objective to counter any other naval force in the region, it is only meant to enhance security and widen the scope of our cooperation with friendly countries,” said Lt Anastasios Soulas, Operations Officer of the Spetsai, during a media visit to the vessels.

The flagship is a Frigate carrying 200 sailors, while the other four are smaller mine-hunters. The Greek frigate can reach a top speed of 35 knots and carries a chopper for surveillance and emergency operations.

On the presence of four mine-hunting vessels, Lt Sanna said the threat perception from such devices planted in the waters of the region was low despite the blast which hit a Japanese tanker transiting the Strait of Hormuz last year.

"Regional navies sometimes invite us for such visits to share know-how and build confidence. This is a peace-time, social visit and we hope to work closely with the UAE in the future,” said Lt Sanna.

When asked if the UAE could play a larger role in future NATO operations, Lt Sanna said the objective was to build on ties with like-minded countries in the region.

The group's last port of call was Kuwait. It had also transited Bahrain and the next port is Salalah in Oman.

Six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council were initially invited to participate in the group in 2004. Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar joined the same year, while the UAE was the last to join the programme in 2005. Saudi Arabia and Oman have also evinced interest in its activities. – Khaleej Times


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