Somali pirates have attracted an assortment of complicated war machines to Eastern Africa. The Chinese have brought a submarine, The Italians a war ship and a sophisticated drone called the Predator. The European Union naval command says they are also moving in to strengthen their presence.
The African Armed Forces website says the European Union Naval Force Somalia (Northwood) has stated that the new Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force, Major General Martin Smith MBE, made it a priority after his appointment in August 2014 to visit the Horn of Africa and the east African region to strengthen ties with the EU’s partners and highlight EU Naval Force’s commitment in the fight against Somali piracy.
According to the US Naval Institute (USNI) China has sent a submarine to the Gulf of Aden to help in counter-piracy operations — a first for the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) submarine fleet, according to the Chinese Ministry of National Defence. In a recent press briefing, ministry spokesman Col. Geng Yansheng confirmed a PLAN submarine was headed off the coast of Somalia to join a Chinese task force effort to piracy in the region.
News of the submarine emerged when what appeared to be a Song-class diesel attack submarine (SSK) took on fuel and provisions in Sri Lanka from 7-14 September, raising questions if China was expanding submarine operations into the Indian Ocean. A later statement from the ministry indicated the submarine was not part of a larger Chinese push into the Indian Ocean.
Still, the submarine’s presence has caused concern for India and other countries in the region wary of China expanding operations beyond the Western Pacific and the South China Sea. China has spent considerable funds on infrastructure in ports like Sri Lanka’s Colombo and Pakistan in the Indian Ocean for years raising concerns of the Indian government.
“Chinese warships are deployed in the Indian Ocean Region and we are continuously monitoring them and see what is their deployment,” chief of the Indian Navy Adm Robin Dhowan told reporters on 25 September. India and China have also been at odds at the countries’ shared Himalayan land border. Though China claims the visit by the attack boat was benign, the ambitious trek to the Gulf of Aden is a test of the logistics needed to operate its submarines further afield.
“The port call in Colombo highlights China’s need for logistics facilities for ships and submarines deployed along its sea lines of communications,” read an analysis in Jane’s Defence Weekly.
”The fact that the facilities used were at one of two ports developed by China in Sri Lanka, as it has also done in Pakistan and Myanmar, is likely to reinvigorate the debate about Chinese construction of maritime infrastructure in the [Indian Ocean] Region.”
It’s unclear when the submarine — and its accompanying tender — will join the PLAN flotilla in the Gulf of Aden. However, the length of the journey from China’s submarine base on Hainan Island is about 5,500 nautical miles. For the 2,200-ton Song, that journey could take up to three weeks, according to Jane’s. Submarines have been used previously in counter-piracy operations as primarily surveillance platforms.
THE EU IS MOVING IN
A press release by the European Union Naval Force Somalia (Northwood) stated that the new Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force, Major General Martin Smith MBE, made it a priority after his appointment in August 2014 to visit the Horn of Africa and the east African region to strengthen ties with the EU’s partners and highlight EU Naval Force’s commitment in the fight against Somali piracy.
On Monday, 22 September, 2014 his first port of call was to the key logistical hub of Djibouti, where he was met by the EU Ambassador to Djibouti, Joseph Silva.
Maj Gen Smith’s first visit was to the Italian Military Support Base in Djibouti. After a short introduction on the Base’s role and activities, Major General Smith was given a briefing about the Italian Air Force’s remote controlled aircraft, known as Predator, and how it is being integrated into the European Union’s counter-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta.
Predator has been based in Djibouti since 6 August 2014. In the coming months it will be used to monitor the seas off the coast of Somalia where pirates have been known to operate and it has the capability, when airborne, to give an early warning of a possible attack against merchant shipping.
As is the case with EU Naval Force warships and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft, the remote controlled aircraft can also be used to monitor the safety of World Food Programme vessels as they transit along the Somali coast.
During his visit, Maj Gen Smith expressed his thanks to the Italian forces for their outstanding support to Operation Atalanta and the excellent air reconnaissance results achieved so far by Predator.
During his visit to Djibouti, the Operation Commander also visited MV Douro, a vessel recently charted by the World Food Programme to carry humanitarian aid to the Somali people. As MV Douro sails along the Somali coast, it will be protected from pirate attack by a Serbian Autonomous Vessel Protection Detachment, or AVPD, operating under the Operation Atalanta flag.
During his visit to the Horn of Africa, Maj Gen Smith also took the opportunity to embark in the EU Naval Force flagship, Italian Navy destroyer, ITS Andrea Doria, at sea off the coast of Djibouti. After being welcomed on board by the EU Force Commander, Rear Admiral Guido Rando, Maj Gen Smith was given a tour of ITS Andrea Doria and briefed on her capabilities.
Maj Gen Smith then flew on to Mogadishu, where he met the Somali Prime Minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed and Minister of Defence, Mohamed Shiekh Hassan and others. The meeting was an opportunity to discuss face-to-face the on-going threat and importance of regional cooperation to help secure a lasting solution to piracy.
Maj Gen Smith was accompanied during his visit to Mogadishu by the head of the EU Delegation to Somalia, Mr Michele Cervone, the Head of the EU Training Mission in Somalia, Brig Gen Massimo Mingiardi, and the head of EUCAP Nestor, Mr Etienne de Poncins.