In the Shallows: Patrol Coastal Pride

27FEB2013 (52)130508-N-PK218-109Why focus on Patrol Coastal ships again? They’re an important part of protecting shipping while in transit, and protecting infrastructure at sea and in the shallows. To further emphasise this, Fleet Forces recently announced that 2 additional PCs will be sent to operate with Manama, Bahrain as their forward deployed home along with a maintenance support team.

The at-sea portion of IMCMEX 13 is just past its center point and PCs have played key roles. Here to talk about what they are contributing to the exercise is Capt. Stephen Evans, commander of Destroyer Squadron 50.

-Fleet LT

120620-N-WB378-044Over 40 nations have joined us here to participate in a wide spectrum of operations designed to protect the routes of international commerce and trade. IMCMEX is a defensive exercise that focuses on keeping vital sea lanes open so the world economy is not affected by acts of terrorism or criminal activity. A stable world economy is dependent upon the unencumbered movement of food, consumer goods, raw materials and energy products through the Arabian Gulf and its associated chokepoints. To ensure these goods continue to freely move through this region, the global community must work together not only during exercises but everyday to keep the sea lanes open.

While Mine Countermeasure ships and divers from the navies of nations throughout the world conduct mine clearing operations other ships will be watching over them to keep them safe. The U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship (PC) sails on the frontline of this defense patrolling the waters of the Arabian Gulf and working with both Gulf Region States and coalition allies performing Maritime Security Operations (MSO) and Maritime Infrastructure Protection (MIP). The PCs are perfectly suited for the complex waters of the Arabian Gulf, where over 80% of operations are in water less than 39 feet, the shallow draft alone gives these ships an edge in the region. Fast and agile with punching power, they have a distinct advantage making them a vital part of operations like Mine Countermeasure Defense.

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As multi-mission ships, the Patrol Coastal ships offer a reliable platform that is flexible in operations and an invaluable force multiplier. While they won’t sit center stage during the IMCMEX, they are a key component to it’s safe and successful execution. I have been proud to watch these small ships shine.

-Capt. Stephen Evans, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 50

Adding Industry to a Military Exercise is Good for the Environment

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IMCMEX is a multinational, defense-based military exercise aimed to address and counter threats in the maritime environment. Industry operates a crucial energy trade and 30% of the world’s crude flows through the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. So how could military and industry combining efforts be good for the environment? Teamwork of course.

FactoryEmerging and established economies the world over have an energy dependency on fossil fuels, some less than others, but the fact remains that with such a large demand these energy sources must be carried in large volumes to help keep operating and transport costs low. Nearly 1/3 of all energy consumed comes from oil or refined oil products, and in 2012 reached 88 million barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons). With all of this oil being pulled from the ground, all over the world, and transported to the countries that require it, there are remarkably few accidents, spills or explosions throughout the process.

effectofoilspillMany would say that even one incident a year, a decade is disastrous to the environment, and they would be right. Though an industrial scale accident, or losing a supertanker to a mine or similar attack, would affect oil prices somewhat; the price of one tanker (aprox. $120M ship + $55M in oil) is relatively inconsequential to the global oil trade (aprox. $9bn/day). The environment is not so lucky.

NOAA_oilspill_1The international shipping community has significantly reduced the number of marine spills over the last decade. Even with this dramatic reduction the prevention of these events must remain a priority. One tanker full of oil can be devastating to coastal and marine wildlife in the short-term, and can change entire ecosystems if not addressed and rectified. There can be many contributors to a spill, be it accidental, malfunction or an act of violence; and several can be prevented. This is why industry training with global militaries is good for the environment.

8267579164_4e311fb809_cA significant portion of IMCMEX 13’s agenda is focused on maritime security operations, to include a commercial shipping escort through a simulated mine field. While mines are not the only form of attack these merchant ships are vulnerable to (waterborne IEDs, explosive laden small boats, piracy, etc.), it is a demonstration of the preventable disaster that would adversely affect the environment. Similar events are being held at offshore oil stations as part of a maritime infrastructure protection focus against violent extremists damaging or controlling important infrastructure in the region.

It is far easier to prevent an environmental disaster than to clean it up, and the Oil Spill Response Seminar and table-top exercise during IMCMEX was designed to address protection and prevention concerns, and how to mobilize an effective response to an oil spill should prevention efforts fail.

oil-spill-clean-up-2Alex Walker, a representative of industry for the exercise, led the Oil Spill Response discussion. During the multiple presentations, agencies like a UK-based Oil Spill Service Center based, Navy Coordination and Guidance At Sea and the Maritime Liaison Office; leaders covered international policy, safety of life at sea, communication challenges between militaries, agencies and industry, and what mariners can do at each level of the problem to preserve life and minimize the effects that a damaged crude carrier would have on the environment and other shipping.

Walker went on to comment during an interview that any response effort is about the safety of people and the environment. “The Navy has always taken environmental concerns very seriously,” Walker said. “This forum gives us the opportunity to explore that aspect in more detail.”

Oil spills are complicated. Their behavior relies on  surface tension of the oil product, specific gravity of the product, the viscosity and multiple environmental factors (an overview of behavior and effects).  To make things harder, oil characteristics and environmental factors dictate what response options would be most effective in treating the crisis (a simple interactive guide). These responses take a great deal of cooperation and coordination and Oil Spill Response discussions like in IMCMEX 13 are crucial to an effective, international, military and industry combined response.

While safety of mariners is paramount, concern for how we are affecting the environment is ever-present.

More information about oil spill response is available via the U.S. EPA and NOAA  response pages, as well as International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation and many other pages.

-Fleet LT

IMCMEX: Patrol Coastal Ships

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Did you know that the US Navy employs coastal patrol coastal (PC) ships, many of which are forward deployed to the Kingdom of Bahrain? In fact, there are five Cyclone class PCs in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR) and they perform important tasks in the littorals of the Arabian Gulf. The small ships are extremely well suited to operating in the warm, shallow, busy gulf waters due to their maneuverability and shallow draft.

Picture4As Vice Admiral Miller, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime Forces, said in a related story (Link Here), “[PCs] are capable of many missions, but what they are best suited for is infrastructure protection and maritime security in the region. There is no other platform, I am certain, that could do the job better.”

In addition to infrastructure protection, PCs maneuverability is ideal to combat various nimble small craft in the Gulf region that may be used by violent extremists to threaten or harm shipping, which, in turn, would have economic and political impacts throughout the region.

111001-N-VN693-288-660x462It takes more than big ships with big guns and aircraft to ensure the safety of the maritime environment—it takes an organized team to carry out a variety of missions. PCs are a part of that team and their mission includes infrastructure protection and maritime security operations.

Coastal Patrol Ships: Small, Maneuverable, Vital.

– Fleet LT

IMCMEX: Maritime Infrastructure

Threats in the maritime environment can be varied in both technology and approach, and this year’s IMCMEX is designed to address multiple elements of maritime security. These elements of security have been grouped into three categories for the exercise: Maritime Infrastructure Protection, Maritime Security Operations, and Mine Countermeasures.

I’ve prefaced these areas before, and are covered in more detail at the IMCMEX 13 website, but I’d like to take a moment to address the importance of adding maritime infrastructure as a focus for this exercise.

130402-N-ZZ999-576Navies are accustomed to being watchful for threats at sea and, due to past pirate activity, so have merchant companies and crews. It is just as vital that we train to protect our harbors and facilities, as without them our goods, services and personnel cannot get to sea.

Ports like Mina Salman and Khalifa Bin Salman are important for regional commerce as well as staging facilities for local and international navies to protect national and international interests.

8314083004_43f1f7ff26_cExplosive ordnance disposal divers, patrol coastal ships, inshore boats, mine countermeasure ships, multiple aircraft, and port security teams work in concert to ensure shipping in ports and harbors are safe both in the water and ashore.

Security in the maritime environment is a multi-step process that can be challenging at the best of times, and the units we will focus on in future posts help ensure that our maritime infrastructure–both ports of departure and arrival–are capable of fulfilling commercial, national and international needs.

-Fleet LT