UK expands Gulf presence to counter piracy and terrorism

Stephen Spark

UK: The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is to expand its counter-piracy capability in the Middle East and western Indian Ocean by establishing a permanent base in Bahrain.

On Friday, UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond signed a defence agreement with Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid, to enlarge existing facilities at Mina Salman Port to create a forward operating base. Bahrain will cover the $23M construction cost, while Britain will pay the operational costs.

An MoD spokesperson told IHS Maritime that the base will undertake counter-piracy operations in addition to anti-terrorism activities. A BBC report indicated that Mina Salman will also be used for aerial surveillance sorties.

Four British mine-hunter warships are already based in Bahrain. UK defence secretary Michael Fallon said that “expansion of the Royal Navy’s footprint‚Ķ will enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the Gulf. We will now be based again in the Gulf for the long term.”

Between 1935 and 1971 Bahrain served as Britain’s naval stronghold in the Gulf. When enlargement work is completed in mid-2015, Mina Salman is expected to become the Royal Navy’s largest operational centre outside the UK.

Mina Salman was formerly Bahrain’s main port, but container and cruise operations were moved to Khalifa Bin Salman Port in 2009. The following year, work started on a $580M project to convert 28ha of Mina Salman into a base for US Navy and Coalition warships and personnel.

Expansion of an independent British naval presence was mooted about two years ago, IHS Maritime understands. Last week’s announcement comes at a time of increasing concern about terrorism and maritime security threats, particularly from Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Last month, al-Qaeda announced plans to attack maritime chokepoints, its Indian Subcontinent offshoot, AQIS, attempted to seize control of a Pakistani Navy warship, the Indian port of Kolkata was placed on a terrorism alert, the US State Department warned of the risk of terrorist attacks on Djibouti port, and Yemen said it feared al-Shabaab terrorists were infiltrating migrant groups crossing the Gulf of Aden.

Admiral R K Dhowan of the Indian Navy told a press conference last week that the threat of a terrorist attack from the sea was a real challenge. Quoted by the Indo-Asian News Service, Adm Dhowan said: “It is a very, very serious situation which we have taken serious note of.”


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