Friday, September 21, 2012

Oil Tanker and Container Shipping Route will be Crowded for a Few Days

Military Exercise Aimed at Defeating Closure of Choke Points
Shipping News Feature

MIDDLE EAST – The situation in and around the Arabian Gulf continues to be a constant worry for the shipping community, home as it is to the traffic lanes for both container vessels and of course oil tankers. This week the largest ever military exercise in the region in terms of the number of nations involved demonstrates the concern which all maritime nations have, particularly with regard to the possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz.

Whilst various navies routinely patrol different areas outside of the Red Sea particularly since the emergence of the pirate threat from Somalia, the area is vast incorporating parts of the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea the concern is the comparative ease with which any aggressor can seal the bottlenecks which include Suez and the Bab-el-Mandab, the so called ‘Gate of Grief’ which separates Yemen from Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. The most vulnerable of these possible choke points however is currently the Strait of Hormuz, the fuse that leads to the Iranian powder keg, which joins the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the consistently poor political situation between Western powers, the Israelis and Iran is what has engendered the current operation named IMCMEX-2012.

IMCMEX-2012, International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise 2012 to give it its full title began this week following extensive discussions in July between twenty nations although the initiative is clearly a US led scheme. Now a vast assortment of vessels from six navies and incorporating personnel from around thirty nations, will continue to exercise in the four designated areas including the waters off Bahrain, Oman, Djibouti and an Eastern area at an undisclosed location. Despite the presence of a panoply of naval types from assault ships through frigates, destroyers and cruisers one of the principal exercises will be the laying of and subsequent search and recovery/destruction of, dummy mines. Gen. James N. Mattis, Head of the U.S. Central Command commented:

“IMCMEX 12 demonstrates the international community’s ability to work together to ensure free and secure trade. Of the approximately 40 bilateral and multilateral exercises we’ll conduct this year this exercise also represents the extensive cooperation we enjoy with our international partners – both in and outside the region – with mutual economic and security interests. We’ll finish this exercise with even stronger relationships with our partners.”

As well minesweeping activities there will also be exercises to test security against attacks from small craft such as that on the Limburg, mentioned in our recent Yemen story, and the MOL tanker Star in 2010. The exercise is slated to continue until the 27th September and following a first phase in which commanders from each country involved discussed manoeuvres at a symposium the second stage of practical involvement will mean troops from different nationalities working together in various exercises including helicopter defensive sweeps and divers countering underwater explosive assaults and ordnance disposal as well as destroying small attack craft and state of the art mine countermeasures. Rear Adm. Kenneth Perry, Commander, Task Force 522 and exercise director, commented:

"Everyone here at IMCMEX 12 understands that countering the threat posed by mines is a critical mission to ensure security in the maritime domain. The work we will do here will strengthen relationships and enhance mine countermeasures interoperability among participating navies."

Photo: Vice Adm. John Miller, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet/Combined Maritime Forces welcoming those in attendance to the first phase of IMCMEX 12