The past five years have witnessed tremendous growth in global interest over maritime security, a dynamic in which NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour has continually been at the forefront.

Under an Article V collective self-defence mandate, NATO maritime security patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean were established in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, and a month later were expanded and codified as a formal operation, Active Endeavour, on 26 October.

In March 2003 OAE was expanded to include escort operations for shipping transiting the Straits of Gibraltar – 488 escort missions were conducted before suspension of the escort mission in 2004. In May of that year, NATO expanded the scope of OAE to the entire Mediterranean, invited Mediterranean Dialogue and Partnership for Peace partner nations to contribute to the mission, and established a new strategy for maritime security operations.

This new approach put equal emphasis on information sharing between regional partners and maintenance of a rapid response capability in the case of suspect shipping.

Today, OAE is exploring means to harness the revolution in navigation and identification at sea brought about by GPS and the Automated Identification System technology to create a comprehensive recognized maritime picture. From tracking and hailing, establishing international standards for the rules of engagement for maritime security operations and escort operations, to being a forceful proponent of maritime information sharing in the fight against terrorism and related activities such as crime and human trafficking, OAE has led the way.

The mission is directed by Vice Admiral Roberto Cesaretti, Commander Allied Maritime Component Command Naples (CC-MAR Naples). OAE was established: “to help deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorism in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea.” Its headquarters at Nisida has been a major international laboratory for experimentation on the conduct of maritime security operations, involving the management and analysis of over 80,000 vessels that have been monitored, and the more than 100 compliant boardings that have been performed.

Maritime Component Naples has fostered new understanding on the employment of naval assets, new possibilities of civil-military cooperation in an inter-agency environment, and new partnerships across the maritime domain. Second only to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, OAE demonstrates NATO coherence and resolve in the fight against terrorism.

Enhanced international cooperation has been a strategic success of OAE. In mid-September, a NATO flag was hoisted on the Russian Federation ship Pitliviy as it joined in the OAE mission. Several Mediterranean nations from Morocco to Israel, as well as Finland and Ukraine, commenced operational cooperation with NATO first in OAE.

At the operational level NATO has established close links with the Black Sea Fleet HQ, the Turkish Permanent Coordination Centre directing Operation Black Sea Harmony, the French CECMED HQ for the Western Mediterranean, CTF 150 in the Indian Ocean and many other operational level headquarters. Through these connections, the annual Maritime Commanders Conference and Mediterranean dialogue initiatives, CC-MAR Naples has developed regular contact/data exchange with 17 out of the 25 nations surrounding the OAE area of operations.

The centre of gravity in maritime security operations (MSO) is information superiority. Effective MSO requires employment of new technologies such as the International Maritime Organization’s mandated use of Automated Identification Systems (AIS) to achieve the most comprehensive picture of activity at sea and in port. No one nation or organization will have a monopoly on this information, thus it is also necessary to develop systems that can link all possible sources of information, merge them, and then filter out suspect shipping behavior from a mass of data.

Emphasis is placed on sharing unclassified information, as against intelligence. Open information is easier to provide to partners, avoids inter-agency difficulties, and builds a mutually reinforcing network that maritime security organizations can utilize as they see fit.

CC-MAR Naples is leading the creation of such a network, in particular, the Maritime Safety and Security Information System (MSSIS), which shares unclassified AIS information, on a password protected, internet-delivered network, which already links all the key Mediterranean maritime players, and is expanding in scope and content every day.

In summary, OAE has achieved the following:
§ Acted as a deterrent to terrorist activity (with nuclear deterrence it is difficult to prove a negative, but so far the Mediterranean has not witnessed active maritime terrorism)
§ Increased ability to detect terrorist activity using dedicated software that permits discrimination of threats in real time, from among hundreds of sea-going vessels
§ Expanded maritime security cooperation with numerous non-NATO partners and international organizations, as well as strong links with coastal authorities that can activate their constabulary or naval forces to intercept threats entering their territorial waters
§ Substantial improvement in NATO and partner interoperability and data exchange capability that exploits all technological means to accelerate processes of cooperation
§ Genuine impact on wider illegal activity at sea, as use of the seas for crime, drugs and human trafficking is chilled by their awareness of the AOE mission.

Many thousands of ships a day sail the Mediterranean, not counting fishing boats or pleasure craft. Thirty percent of global oil trade transits the area, which contains the strategic choke points of the Bab el Mandeb Strait and Suez Channel. The danger of terrorist attack in the region, or piracy, cannot be discounted. Nor can the risk that a weapon of mass destruction could be placed in a container to be exploded in Genoa, Marseille, Barcelona, or indeed Antwerp or New York.

OAE is one part of a wide international and cross-agency effort to ensure the safety and security of maritime traffic, sea lines of communication, and the homelands of the Alliance and its partners. We cannot do it alone, but we do believe we play a vital part in the overall effort.

Rear Admiral Richard Leaman is Chief of Staff, Allied Maritime Component Command Naples. His comments are made in a personal capacity, and do not necessarily reflect those of NATO or the Royal Navy. Over a 30-year career, he has commanded ships in the Adriatic supporting NATO-led operations in the Former Yugoslavia, and in the Persian Gulf as part of Operations Desert Fox, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom. As Commander UK Task Group, he steered the early development of the NATO Maritime High Readiness Force capability.


by Rear Admiral Richard Leaman, OBE, UK Royal Navy