BBC News, 04 February 2015 & Reuters, 05 February 2015
A Greek-owned oil tanker was attacked on Monday while it was waiting to load at an oil terminal in southeastern Nigeria. The attack on Kalamos occurred alongside Qua Iboe terminal, with alleged pirates reportedly killing one crew member and taking three others hostage; it was not reported whether or not any cargo was stolen from the vessel. Last year, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported 33 incidents of piracy and robbery in the Gulf of Guinea between January and September 2014; there have been five incidents since the new year. The IMB cautions that many incidents go unreported, belying a growing security concern about the region, which some experts say surpasses that of Somalia.
Al-Monitor, 04 February 2015
Members of Hamas’ Palestinian Governmental Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza say they are preparing to re-open the port of Gaza to international passenger traffic. The port, along with the rest of the Palestinian territory, has been under Israeli blockade since 2006, though fishing boats have been allowed to operate up to six miles offshore. Israel has maintained the blockade to prevent the transport of military goods and personnel into the territory, though the restrictions are said to be having a disastrous impact on the humanitarian and economic situation in the Palestinian areas. The re-opening of Gaza port was said to have been part of ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas in August 2014, though Israel reportedly did not agree to such terms. Observers are concerned about repercussions that may come from Hamas’ attempts to reopen the port, and the Palestinian Authority itself urged Hamas to proceed cautiously, if only because such a unilateral move would further undermine the fragile unity between the Palestinian entities. Many fear that attempts to run the Israeli blockade could result in further incidents like that surrounding the 2010 “Freedom Flotillas” that were intercepted by the Israeli Navy.
IHS Maritime 360, 02 February 2015 & IHS Maritime 360, 30 January 2015
An Indonesian-flagged diesel tanker was reported hijacked by armed pirates off North Sulawesi on January 28th. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), via the Singapore-based maritime security Information Fusion Centre, reported that the tanker, MT Rehobot, was approached by a wooden motor boat and was captured by eight pirates armed with knives. The 14 crew members were unharmed and were found in Rohobot‘s life raft on January 31st, but the location of the tanker is still unknown. Meanwhile, the Malaysian chemical tanker Sun Birdie, which was also attacked on January 28th, was found by Malaysian maritime authorities just northeast of Tanjung Penawar, Malaysia, on January 29th. The Malaysian officials were able to detain nine alleged pirates, and the ship’s crew were reported alive. ReCAAP recently updated its report on maritime piracy and warned that at-sea robberies, especially of fuel tankers, are becoming an increasing problem in Southeast Asia.
Tuoi Tre News, 29 January 2015
Vietnam’s third Russian-built Kilo-class attack submarine, HQ-184 Hai Phong, arrived in Cam Ranh Bay on board a Dutch heavy lift ship on January 28th, and has been handed over to Submarine Brigade 189. Vietnam’s Kilo subs have an operational range of up to 7,500nm, a top speed of 20kt, and are capable of remaining at sea for 45 days. Vietnam is spending USD $2 billion on six Kilo subs from Russia – the fourth and fifth boats are scheduled for delivery later this year, and the sixth is set to arrive in Vietnam in early 2016 – in part to improve its ability to defend its South China Sea claims.
Reuters, 05 February 2015
Philippines Western Command chief Rear Admiral Alexander Lopez told media on Thursday that a Chinese dredging ship has been reclaiming land at Mischief Reef, 73 nautical miles southeast of the Philippines’ Palawan Island. RAdm. Lopez did not give further details of the alleged work, saying only that efforts had been “substantial”; surveillance photos of Mischief Reef from last October showed two buildings and wind and solar energy stations, but no reclamation work. Since 2012, China has accelerated its South China Sea island reclamation work, including extending Fiery Cross Reef to 3km long and 300m wide, presumably to accommodate an airstrip.
South Korea / United States: “U.S. nuke sub visits S. Korea for joint drill”
Yonhap News, 02 February 2015
The Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) and United States Navy are conducting a three-day joint anti-submarine warfare drill beginning on Thursday. The nuclear submarine USS Olympia, forward deployed from Pearl Harbor, is working with ROKN surface ships to practice interoperability and submarine detection in South Korean waters against a possible North Korean submarine attack. Olympia also participated in the ceremony marking South Korea’s new submarine command last week. Although the exercise is an annual occurrence and the participation of an American sub is routine, North Korea condemned it as provocative.
Defense News, 02 February 2015 & Reuters, 02 February 2015
The Obama administration’s 2016 fiscal year budget proposal to Congress includes a military budget increase that defence officials say is necessary to meet global commitments and redress previous funding cuts. The proposed USD $534 billion in spending, including an additional $51bn in war funds, is in excess of federal spending caps for 2016, meaning it will likely force debate in Congress between prioritizing defence or elimination of the budget deficit. General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested that the proposed total “represents the minimum resource level necessary to remain a capable, ready and appropriately sized force able to meet our global commitments,” including long-term projects like shifting US forces to the Pacific region, and emerging contingencies like the campaign against the Islamic State or the security situation in Ukraine. The budget outlines shipbuilding plans which include construction of 48 ships through 2020, including 10 new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 10 Virginia-class submarines, and 14 littoral combat ships. A Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier and an America-class amphibious assault ship are also planned, along with several other vessels of new classes, including an amphibious transport dock, an afloat forward staging base, and new classes of fleet tugs and oilers. A further $10bn in funding was also earmarked for the advanced procurement and development of the future Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine program, with the first vessel of the SSBN(X) program to be ordered in 2021.
United States: “Missile defense ships face arms race, high op tempo”
NavyTimes, 31 January 2015
Reports suggest that the US Navy’s ballistic missile defence-capable (BMD) ships are the fleet’s most in-demand assets, and their importance is expected to increase as nuclear-armed states around the world expand their arsenals of ballistic missiles. The US Missile Defense Agency has reported a dramatic expansion in arsenals in the past five years, and the navy’s 33 BMD-capable ships have the highest operational tempo of all vessels within the USN. The BMD component, currently comprised of five cruisers and 28 destroyers, is set to face further strain as the ships undergo extended maintenance and refit periods. Long-term plans suggest that the fleet will be increased to 43 vessels by 2019, and current assessments suggest that 18 deployable ships are needed to have a persistent missile defence capability. The Navy often has more than 20 deployable BMD ships at any one time, though greater flexibility is needed to cover contingencies, shorten deployments, allow for maintenance periods, and provide for future expansion of the capability to address the changing strategic situation. The Missile Defense Agency has plans to expand its land-based BMD facilities, particularly in Europe, which will also help reduce the strain on the ship-based systems.
East Africa: “Opening Ceremony Cutlass Express 2015”
US Africa Command press release, 29 January 2015
Maritime forces from 14 different countries from Africa, Europe, South Asia and North America are participating in Exercise Cutlass Express 2015 out of Djibouti and Mauritius. The eight-day exercise involves scenarios based on the Proliferation Security Initiative, with three days of at-sea drills in which the detection and disruption of WMD materials will be practiced. Sponsored by US Africa Command, Cutlass Express and the other three “Express” series exercises are designed to enhance and practice maritime domain awareness, information sharing and regional cooperation across national services that operate in African waters.
South Korea: “Seoul launches sub command”
Korea Herald, 01 February 2015
The Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) inaugurated its first submarine force command on Sunday to better coordinate its sub-sea operations. The command incorporates all underwater operations, training and education, and maintenance responsibilities to improve its own forces. The submarine force command will also improve the ROKNs ability to respond to threats from adversaries like North Korea, which itself has an extensive array of over 70 submarines which it has used offensively in the recent past, like in the 2010 sinking of the corvette ROKS Cheonan. The ROKN has been seeking to improve its own submarine capability, which is currently comprised of 13 diesel-electric boats, with plans to build a new class of nine 3,000 ton boats sometime in the 2020s, at which point some of the older vessels will be phased-out.