ABU DHABI // A Turkish admiral sailed into Abu Dhabi for the first time in centuries last night to mark the start of co-operation between the UAE and Turkey in battling piracy.
The two navies will take part in joint training exercises to improve intelligence sharing and enhance military capabilities.
Four frigates and a logistics ship for refuelling form part of the Turkish Maritime Task Group, which began its tour of the region on Tuesday in Oman and will finish in Jordan on July 30.
"It is my distinct privilege to be here as the first Turkish admiral here for centuries," said Rear Admiral Sinan Ertugrul last night. "I think this is a strong indication of the bilateral relationship between the UAE and Turkey.
"The Emirates navy is a very capable and a very powerful navy.
"We believe we can enhance the level of co-operation between the navies by having meetings, discussing the issues and training related to counter-piracy to improve the level of inter-operability between navies. We're here for this purpose."
The admiral arrived at Port Zayed aboard the flagship TCG Barbaros F-244, equipped with ASW torpedoes, harpoons, sea sparrows and guns.
The mission's scope covers a broad area. "My mission is counter-piracy operations to deter piracy at sea in the Gulf of Aden, in the internationally recognised transiting sea, in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean while conducting naval diplomacy," Admiral Ertugrul said. "I don't have any other task or mission."
UAE ships have been subjected to a number of attacks by Somali pirates and in April the country donated about US$4.5 million (Dh16.5m) to a UN trust fund to be used to curb Somali piracy.
Most recently, an oil tanker was rescued by Iranian warships after it sent out a distress call while sailing from Bahrain to the Red Sea.
In April, a UAE bulk carrier became the first government-owned ship to be hijacked in the Arabian Sea, east of Oman, en route from Australia to Jebel Ali port in Dubai.
UAE Special Forces boarded the carrier, which was owned by a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, rescued the crew and arrested the pirates. The Turkish delegation said this was a "very effective operation".
"Turkey has actively been involved with counter-piracy at least with one frigate working either for Nato or for the coalition forces based in Bahrain," Admiral Ertugrul said.
"Turkey has twice provided an admiral to command the CTF151, the counter-piracy related test group of coalition forces in the region."
Asked if he intended to visit other nations in the Gulf, the admiral was firm. "No, definitely not. Since this is counter-piracy related, this is not in the Mediterranean.
"There are neighbouring countries in the Gulf not in the programme but that will happen in the near future at some other time. This is a mission-orientated test group - and the mission is counter-piracy."
The admiral will meet with chief of the UAE Navy and the base commander at Abu Dhabi's Mina Zayed on the first leg of his tour.
"On the 26th we will conduct a bilateral passage exercise with the UAE navy and the participation of some units. Then we'll continue with our programme as scheduled at sea."
The admiral said he believed land-based solutions were the key to combating piracy: "If there's a political solution ashore, we'll support it."
In the Indian Ocean, he said: "A ship there is not even a dot. How can we cover it? If you bring all the navies of the globe, it is nothing. But we do our best by positioning our ships in camps around Somalian coast, not to let them get access to the open seas, by keeping them in the region, in their territorial waters."
But sensitivity was required, he said. "We are there to make a distinction between ordinary humble fisherman, and pirates."
Admiral Ertugrul added: "Turkey is a valuable and very active member of the international community and that is why we believe that counter-piracy is a threat to the peace and prosperity not only to the region but worldwide as it has an impact on the maritime trade and safe navigation, maritime security."
The Turkish navy co-ordinates with other nations in the region.
"We co-ordinate with coalition forces headquarters in Bahrain - I have a liaison officer there," Admiral Ertugrul said.
"We co-ordinate with the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor co-ordinator who is another admiral. We share all information we have with all participating independent nations, namely China, Russia, Malaysia, southern Korea, India - there is great co-operation."
If Turkey were in the middle of an Iran-UAE spat on sea, "we'd have no relation to it. They're at sea. We say 'hello brother', they say 'hello brother'. The sea is the right of everyone. I'm here and they're here."