x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Gulf co-operation key to boosting maritime security, naval chiefs say

Terrorism, piracy and smuggling can only be tackled if the region's security forces unite, navy chiefs say.

Handout images from the MV Arrilah-I that was hijacked by pirates.
Handout images from the MV Arrilah-I that was hijacked by pirates.

ABU DHABI // Naval forces and coastguards have vowed to work together to create a formidable maritime shield against the threats of terrorism, piracy and smuggling.

On the last day of a maritime security conference in the capital yesterday, defence chiefs and naval experts spoke of plans to enhance cooperation between Arabian Gulf countries.

They also discussed new training of navy and coastguard officers and increasing coastal surveillance to protect offshore oil installations.

“The threats will never completely diminish because there will always be people who benefit from terrorism, piracy or criminal activity,” said Maj Gen Ahmed Yusuf Al Mulla, former commander of the Kuwaiti navy and now adviser to the country’s defence chief.

“But we can close big gaps and limit their expansion by working together. When we target them, these people will turn to new forms and it [terrorism] will never be finished. But if we continue to press on, we will prevail.”

Rear Admiral Ahmed Al Sabab Al Teneiji, the former chief of the UAE Navy, said various forces within the UAE also needed to work together.

“Navies and coastguards work in the same theatre so they must complement each other,” Rear Admiral Al Teneiji said. “They are not just partners but they should work as one.

“We can’t compare our coastguard and navy to countries like the United States because we are a small country. So for small countries in the Gulf that face different threats of terrorism or piracy or smuggling, both our coastguard and navy must work together and all our countries must cooperate more.”

Brig Alaauldeen Seyadee, commander of the Bahrain coastguard, said surveillance and technology could only do so much.

“We’ll have more technology, coverage with more radars and even use satellites over the next few years,” Brig Seyadee said. “But it requires more than radars. There must be more cooperation of all maritime centres. We protect critical infrastructure and secure the coast, so we must plan our focus together.”

About a fifth of the world’s oil exports pass through the Strait of Hormuz and continue to the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean.

There are also threats by Iran to block the strait, and concerns about mines and terrorist strikes on offshore oil installations and ports.

Analysis of these threats is needed, experts said, to develop action plans with common logistics and training for coastguard and navy.

“This will help in case Iran takes any aggressive actions or there are any other unforeseen threats,” said retired Rear Admiral Christian Giermann, a former primary adviser to the UAE chief of naval forces.

“There are concerns about underwater warfare: attacks by small submarines and mine threats.

“So there is a clear situation for the UAE to have more training, logistics support and cooperation at sea without any restrictions between the navy and coastguard.”

Kai-Uwe Muehlbach, a retired lieutenant commander in the German navy and adviser to the German marine consultancy office, also spoke of the threat of underwater strikes.

“Small, driven groups – not only states – can create, build and use mini-subs or midgets capable of attacking big ships and assets like oilfields,” he said. “Mine threats against international shipping, terrorist threats against ports and offshore installations – that’s what we have to prepare ourselves for.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae