x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

New naval base to guard 'life vein' of oil industry

Location in Fujairah will allow base to play role in strategic defence of the country's land and water, says commander of new facility.

Sailors salute during the opening of a new naval base in Fujairah, designed to protect vital shipping lanes in the region.
Sailors salute during the opening of a new naval base in Fujairah, designed to protect vital shipping lanes in the region.

FUJAIRAH // A new naval base in Fujairah will help to protect vital shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, analysts said yesterday.

The base is the strongest signal yet of the UAE's commitment to protecting the area, which the Armed Forces called the "life vein" of the oil industry.

The inauguration on Wednesday came two months after a terrorist attack damaged part of a Japanese oil tanker on its way from Al Ruwais to Tokyo carrying 270,000 tonnes of oil. The tanker was attacked outside UAE waters, but highlighted the need for greater vigilance in protecting the area's shipping lanes.

The Fujairah Naval Base is an "edifice" of the Armed Forces, the base's commander said in remarks published on the state news agency, WAM.

"This location will allow the base to play its role in the strategic defence of the country's land and waters," the commander said, particularly in light of the "crucial strategic importance" of the Strait of Hormuz.

"The new base will further allow the UAE to project its maritime power to a greater arc of influence than previously," said Paul Burke, a former military intelligence officer who briefed an audience at the The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) on maritime security and is author of a new study on the maritime security of the UAE.

The base was inaugurated by Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed al Sharqi, the Ruler of Fujairah. The opening was attended by Hamad al Rumaithi, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces.

Some government circles have placed greater emphasis on maritime security this year. The ECSSR, a government thinktank, held a session recently on maritime security threats.

The Critical National Infrastructure Authority announced this month that they had included an air wing in their maritime security forces.

The multinational Combined Task Force 152 conducts maritime security operations in the Gulf.

"The base will contribute to raising the capabilities of the naval forces," the commander said.

That role includes defending the country's territorial waters and critical infrastructure, providing maritime security, protecting shipping lanes to and from the country and responding to natural and industrial disasters in the area.

It signals an expansion of the navy's role in protecting oil installations and shipments and responding to crises such as oil spills.

"It has strategic significance whether in terms of location or goals, the most important of which is protecting the country's coast and securing sea navigation in the Strait," the commander said, calling it a "life vein" through which 60 per cent of the world's oil is shipped.

The base is necessary to protect the country's eastern borders, the commander said, including 70 kilometres on the Gulf of Oman.

"The maritime threats to the UAE cover a wide spectrum, and defending against these threats requires a comprehensive, joined-up strategy to ensure that no gaps remain vulnerable," Mr Burke said.

These can include mines, covert divers that conduct sabotage operations, anti-ship missiles fired from the coast, and small boats fitted with explosives, in addition to oil spills and attacks on ships.

"The new base will be a significant, strategic asset to the UAE's maritime security and it will be a welcome measure of reassurance to maritime traffic passing through the Straits of Hormuz," he said.

It is estimated that 90 per cent of all Middle Eastern-produced oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, along with 31 million tons of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), which represents 18 per cent of global LNG supplies.

The UAE is a "choke point" for oil supplies, and the economic effects of a disruption in the supply could be devastating, Mr Burke said. Yemen lost almost $4 million a year in port and other fees after the attack on the USS Cole by al Qa'eda in 1999, he said.