The International Conference and Exhibition on Maritime Security and Defence Hamburg at the Hamburg Fair site, June 15-17 2011, will feature the changing mission of navies toward a focus on global crisis management.
“The special value of MS&D is that it puts the researchers and government officials in contact with practitioners of the merchant fleet and navy, to exchange views with them,” said Vice Admiral Axel Schimpf, Chief of Staff German Navy, in an exclusive interview in the run-up to MS&D 2011, the international conference and exhibition on maritime security and defence, held at the Hamburg Fair site from 15 to 17 June. Vice Admiral Schimpf will present the keynote paper on “Development and perspectives of maritime security”, including the change in the mission of the navies.
Vice Admiral Schimpf already talked about this aspect in the interview: “The mission and tasks of the German Navy have changed very substantially in the past two decades. Today conflict prevention and crisis management are the major elements in our responsibilities worldwide.” In the past, the Navy had concentrated on protection of coastal waters from any threats from a specific enemy, but now there was a significant change in operating area, moving away from the North European and Transatlantic area to the Mediterranean, the Levant and then still further to the East, as far as the Indian Ocean and the Arab Gulf, he explained. But the central responsibility of the navy and naval air arm was still to secure the capabilities for action in foreign policy of the Federal Republic of Germany; and it was equally important to make a contribution to collective defence of the allies and partners.
Vice Admiral Schimpf sees the 21st century as a “maritime century,” because globalisation cannot be halted by occasional international crises, and would not be conceivable without secure shipping routes. “Maritime transport is the most reliable, most cost-effective and safest option for global exchange of goods,” he said, referring also to the importance of multi-national cooperation in securing the international shipping routes. This was not just relevant for the trends in European navies, but also for current developments in the navies of the Americas, the Near and Middle East, Africa, the Asia-Pacific Region and Australia. Apart from its obligations within NATO, the German Navy had also had positive experience with maritime operations in recent years in the framework of the European Union and the United Nations. Examples mentioned by Schimpf included the ongoing operations EUNAVFOR Atalanta and UNIFIL, which have been in progress for some years. He was certain that these multi-national efforts would continue to require the use of naval forces in the future. That was evident simply by considering the global phenomenon of piracy, affecting in particular the coastal regions of the third world. Current “hot spots” mentioned by the Vice Admiral are Guinea and Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil, Bangladesh, the Strait of Malacca, and Somalia.
The fact that piracy off the coasts of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden has not been seriously contained despite the EU Operation Atalanta is attributed by Vice Admiral Schimpf to the size of the maritime area, for which the number of naval units deployed is not sufficient, and to a change in tactics by the pirates. They are increasingly using large dhows as the parent ships for speedboats, and operating from merchant ships as platforms, thus enabling them to expand their radius of action significantly. That enables them to spend more time in a larger maritime area. “The multinational maritime force would have to be increased enormously in order at least to keep in check this piracy on the open seas, said Vice Admiral Schimpf, summarizing the current situation. That meant merchant shipping companies also had to work for the security of their ships. He also felt it was important to point out that Operation Atalanta is only “tackling the symptoms”. “The root of the evil,” he explained, “is in Somalia itself, not in Somali waters.” He sees the solution in joint efforts and a wide-ranging process, moving forward in coordination with government, industry, and in particular the maritime organisations and the shipping companies.
Closer cooperation and more precise coordination of the distribution of tasks between the European navies is vital for the future, said Vice Admiral Schimpf. For efficiency in particular, it was important to reduce redundancies. “I see a possible field of European cooperation in the area of strategic maritime transport. We are currently holding discussions with a number of partners, to sound out their willingness to set up a European Maritime Transport Coordination Cell – that is a kind of military shipping company,” he said, giving an idea of the next development steps to improve the security of international shipping.