Rear Admiral Antonio Natale, Italian Navy, handed over command of NATO Operation OCEAN SHIELD yesterday to Commodore Henning Amundsen, Norwegian Navy, in a brief ceremony aboard the Italian amphibious assault ship ITS SAN MARCO, concluding a very successful six month counter-piracy deployment.¬† The hand-over officially went into effect early this morning.
Over the course of the deployment, SAN MARCO was joined by the Turkish frigate TCG GOKOVA, the American frigates USS HALYBURTON and USS NICHOLAS, the Danish frigate HDMS IVER HUITFELDT, and the Dutch frigate HNMS VAN SPEIJK.¬† Together with other maritime counter-piracy forces representing the entire international community, NATO‚Äôs Operation OCEAN SHIELD forces have safeguarded maritime trade from the threat of maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa region.
“We want to thank everyone from the Commander to the youngest sailor,‚Äù said Rear Admiral Natale, addressing the crew on the final evening in command.¬† ‚ÄúThis trip took us away from our homes in order to safeguard freedom of navigation for the entire international community in this vital sea line of communication, so the biggest thank goes out to your loved ones.¬† Without their support we would never have been able to do what we did. They are now at home, waiting for you proudly, because you represent a clear example of the best that our society can offer.‚Äù
Under Rear Admiral Natale‚Äôs expert leadership, NATO‚Äôs counter-piracy forces have made significant progress toward curtailing maritime piracy.¬† Not a single vessel was pirated during SAN MARCO‚Äôs watch (note: an attempted pirating of an Indian dhow this week was thwarted in a matter of hours by European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) and NATO forces).¬† This success was largely due to the potent combination of constant presence, active deterrence, local Somali leader engagements, ceaseless pressure on known pirate hubs, and medical care provided to hundreds of Somali patients.
Cooperation and close coordination with other counter-piracy naval forces, including those of the Russian, Japanese and Chinese Navies; EUNAVFOR‚Äôs Operation ATALANTA; and the Combined Maritime Forces‚Äô CTF-151 were critical factors as well.¬† Success at sea also depended heavily on excellent multinational coordination ashore with regional partners Djibouti, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Yemen.
‚ÄúThe successes we have enjoyed are not exclusively a reflection of the work of military forces in the region,‚Äù said Rear Admiral Natale.¬† ‚ÄúThey are also due to self-protection measures taken by the commercial shipping industry, which must continue in order to ensure safety and security of transiting merchant traffic.¬† The underlying root causes of piracy still remain, so we must all remain vigilant.‚Äù
SAN MARCO‚Äôs command of the counter-piracy mission featured numerous operational firsts, to include the first instance of Chinese and Russian helicopters landing on a NATO ship and vice versa during joint engagements at sea.
The Norwegian frigate HNOMS FRIDTJOF NANSEN (F310), current flagship of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, will be the new NATO Operation OCEAN SHIELD flagship.¬† The ship previously conducted counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden during 2009 in support of the European Union Naval Force‚Äôs Operation ATALANTA.¬† USS NICHOLAS and HNMS VAN SPEIJK remain assigned to the counter-piracy operation.¬† ITS SAN MARCO will hand over command of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 next week.