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Halifax frigate to Somalia

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PUBLICATION:    The Chronicle-Herald
DATE:           2008.08.26
SECTION:        Metro
PAGE:           B2
BYLINE:         Jennifer Stewart Staff Reporter
ILLUSTRATION:   A boarding party returns to HMCS Ville de Quebec afterescorting 5,000 tonnes of food aboard the Abdul Rahman to Mogadishu, Somalia. (Cpl Dany Veillette / Marlant HQ)
WORD COUNT:       438
HMCS Ville de Quebec escorts 5,000 tonnes of food to Somalia
While posted in an area known for pirates, civil war and terrorism, crew members aboard HMCS Ville de Quebec got to spread a little good last weekend.
The Halifax-based frigate completed its first escort mission Sunday morning, helping to deliver 5,000 tonnes of food to starving Somalis in Mogadishu.
"Food was going to leave that ship and go feed someone, and that's something navies don't often get to see - a result," Cmdr. Chris Dickinson said in a phone interview off the coast of Somalia Monday. "I've been off Yugoslavia, working there in a submarine; I've been involved in the war on terrorism. This was a totally different feeling.
"It was good, I'll tell ya, it was good."
The Ville de Quebec accompanied the vessel Abdul Rahman to a spot about two kilometres from the shore of war-torn Mogadishu. There the ship was met by African Union soldiers, who are working on land with the United Nations forces.
The Canadian frigate is scheduled to do another escort into Mogadishu this morning with a North Korean ship called the Zang Za San Chong Nyon Ho.
"The ship's company is totally hyped about it because it is something that is so totally different than anything we've done before," Cmdr. Dickinson said of the six-week deployment protecting United Nations World Food Programme shipments from pirates.
He said already this year, 24 vessels have been attacked and seven were taken over and still being held by the rogue seamen.
"It's this really weird, eerie feeling working around here," the commander said. "I just couldn't imagine off the coast of Nova Scotia a vessel being held by pirates, sitting a couple of miles off the coast, and the police or nobody doing anything about it.
"It gives you a sense of the lawlessness around here."
He described Mogadishu as a city torn apart by civil strife, with no infrastructure and little hope.
"It's not a nice place," Cmdr. Dickinson admitted.
Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's shaky government are battling Islamic militias in the area. Thousands of civilians have been killed this year, and hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes.
Drought and skyrocketing food prices are making a bad situation even worse.
All of these issues are a concern for the Canadian troops, especially as they get closer to land, Cmdr. Dickinson said.
"It's the stray shell that might hit us or somebody taking a potshot at us or a terrorist," he said. "It's these pirates and civil war and terrorism altogether that makes for, as I call it, a very interesting escort."
Despite all this, Cmdr. Dickinson said he doesn't doubt for a second that his crew wants to be there.
Just prior to speaking with The Chronicle Herald on Monday, the commander was working on a message to his men and women. He read the note aloud to try to explain his feelings about the mission.
"Rarely in life do we achieve something that we know is special, is right and has made a difference in a world full of hate and strife," he read.
"On the morning of Aug. 25, the crew of HMCS Ville de Quebec got an opportunity to experience that feeling."

PUBLICATION:    National Post
DATE:           2008.09.15
EDITION:        National
SECTION:        Canada
PAGE:           A8
BYLINE:         Matthew Fisher
SOURCE:         Canwest News Service
Canadian destroyer wards off pirates; Somalis flee before they can board freighter
A Canadian warship has helped thwart a pirate attack on an Italian freighter in the Gulf of Aden.
HMCS Iroquois was off the Yemeni coast and 60 kilometres away from the MV Orsolina Bottiglieri when it was pursued by Somali pirates just after sunset on Sept. 3.
"We received a call on the radio and the captain declared that they were being followed," said Commodore Bob Davidson, the Canadian who commands a coalition task force assigned to protect ships in the Gulf of Aden from the growing number of Somali pirates who have been seizing ships and holding their cargoes and crews for ransom.
As the Halifax-based destroyer closed quickly on the Orsolina Bottiglieri, a helicopter from a nearby American warship was also sent to the scene. These actions caused the pirates to flee before they could board the freighter, which was carrying a load of barley from Ukraine to Iran.
"They were using small, fast boats that are pretty hard to find in the dark and we lost them, but we were able to help that fellow [the Italian ship] out," said Commodore Davidson, who transfers command of Task Force 150 to a Danish commodore today in Bahrain. "The captain also helped himself by rigging fire houses, having all his lights on and by manoeuvring towards us."
Somali pirates are currently holding at least six vessels and their crews and have been involved in several dozen other violent incidents in the Gulf of Aden this year. Since Canada took command of Task Force 150 three months ago, the flotilla has disrupted at least 11 pirate gangs as they tried to board ships across a vast 110,000-square-kilometre area.
Iroquois and the West Coastbased HMCS Calgary and HMCS Protecteur entered the Indian Ocean in June. The warships were joined last month by HMCS Ville de Quebec, which was responding to an emergency appeal by the UN's World Food Program to protect emergency food shipments to drought-ravaged Somalia.
Since then Ville de Quebec has safely escorted freighters carrying more than 21,400 tonnes of UN food through waters made dangerous by years of civil war and terrorism as well as piracy. That has been enough food to feed 100,000 people for one year, with several more ships to be escorted into Mogadishu harbour by Ville de Quebec before the end of the month.
Since deploying to Afghanistan in 2002, Canada's army has received far more political and public scrutiny in recent years than the navy.
"Our soldiers are getting killed in Afghanistan and they deserve the weight of our attention," Commodore Davidson said. "The effort that Canada is putting in there deserves top billing. But what we are doing reminds the Canadian people that this is about more than Afghanistan.
"Canadians perhaps don't understand how much we are a maritime nation. It isn't just about oil, but the price of our groceries and whether we can afford to take vacations. Our navy has a major role to play in diplomacy around the world."
As well as deterring pirates, Canadian sailors have also hunted for smugglers who use the northern Indian Ocean to smuggle contraband to support al-Qaida and Taliban terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.
The deployment of 1,000 of Canada's 8,000 sailors to the far side of the world is the Canadian navy's largest undertaking since it sent six warships to the region immediately after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. Despite a steep increase in the price of fuel earlier this summer, Commodore Davidson's mission is expected to come in under its $56-million budget.
Calgary and Protecteur, which have been on a 196 day, 40,000 nautical mile around-the-world journey that began in April and has involved transits of the Panama and Suez Canals, are now taking part in a brief exercise with the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal near the port of Chennai (Madras).

Eye In The Sky:

--- Quote from: gwp on September 15, 2008, 15:17:23 ---
"Our soldiers are getting killed in Afghanistan and they deserve the weight of our attention," Commodore Davidson said. "The effort that Canada is putting in there deserves top billing. But what we are doing reminds the Canadian people that this is about more than Afghanistan.
"Canadians perhaps don't understand how much we are a maritime nation. It isn't just about oil, but the price of our groceries and whether we can afford to take vacations. Our navy has a major role to play in diplomacy around the world."

--- End quote ---

I think that was very nicely put.

 :salute: to all our personnel not able to make it home to their families today.


Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail, is another story about CTF 150:

Canadian warships ply African coast in hunt for pirates

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

September 15, 2008 at 10:00 PM EDT

ABOARD THE HMCS IROQUOIS, MANAMA, BAHRAIN — Brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles, the speedboat full of heavily armed pirates pulled alongside a defenceless Italian merchant ship. As they prepared to board the vessel, intending to seize whatever riches they found aboard, the Italian captain sent out a distress call and a gunboat flying the colours of Her Majesty's navy came steaming to his aid, forcing the pirates to flee.

The dramatic rescue-at-sea isn't something from the history books or the plot of an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster. It happened last week off the coast of lawless Somalia, where incidents of old-fashioned piracy are commonplace again. The ship that steamed to the Italian captain's assistance was a Canadian destroyer, HMCS Iroquois.

It was a semi-routine day for those who, until Monday, were serving in Canada's second-largest military deployment abroad after Afghanistan: A thousand sailors aboard three warships looking for trouble in some of the wildest waters anywhere.

The three ships – the Iroquois, along with HMCS Calgary, a frigate, and HMCS Protecteur, a supply and refuelling ship – spent the past three-and-a-half months serving in a multinational force known as Combined Task Force 150, with the Iroquois serving as the flagship of what is usually a 15-ship group. Their mandate stretched from the tense waters of the Strait of Hormuz, where coalition warships were often in close quarters with the Iranian navy, to the Egypt's Suez Canal.

With a surge of naval hijackings and hostage takings off the Somali coast posing a threat to commercial traffic through the Gulf of Aden, the Iroquois and CTF-150 spent much of their time hunting elusive pirates. The International Maritime Bureau has documented 49 incidents of piracy in the gulf so far in 2008, compared with 34 for all of last year.

Many of those have occurred in the past month, including the Sept. 3 kidnapping of a French couple aboard a 50-foot luxury yacht; their captors are demanding a $1.4-million ransom. Last week, a South Korean cargo ship was seized in the Gulf of Aden, along with all 21 of its crew, on the same day that another pirate crew fired machine-gun rounds at a Greek vessel in the area.

Commodore Bob Davidson, who finished his tour as commander of CTF-150 on Monday, said the rise of piracy in Somali waters was a reflection of the instability inside that country, which has been mired for decades in destitution and civil war. He characterized most of the pirates as “desperate people” who had fallen in with organized-crime.

The more success the pirates have had in attacking traffic in the Gulf of Aden, the more brazen they become, and the more Somalis they've been able to draw into their ranks.

“There has been an increase [in pirate attacks]. What is driving it now is the realization that there's money to be made here. So the pirates have upgraded their capacity,” Commodore Davidson said in an interview aboard the Iroquois shortly after a ceremony in which Canada formally handed over leadership of CTF-150 to Denmark.

“You're looking at an area where there's lots of fighters, there's lots of weapons.” These aren't the romanticized pirates of lore who sailed the high seas under the skull-and-crossbones flag. Most of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, Commodore Davidson said, were carried out by small groups of men who use small, fast vessels to pull alongside larger ships and then force their way aboard with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Such small craft are hard for the coalition ships to spot, and even harder for them to stop. On a dozen or so occasions that Commodore Davidson said his ships came across a pirate attack in progress, the marauders quickly fled before the coalition forces could apprehend them.

“There's nothing quite like the arrival of a grey hull and all the firepower that goes with it to cause these guys to scatter,” Commodore Davidson said with a tight-lipped grin.

While unabashedly proud of the work his sailors had done under his command – including the boarding of 190 suspicious vessels, some inside Somali coastal waters – Commodore Davidson admits that 15 ships can do little to halt piracy in an area as large as the Gulf of Aden, with annual traffic of 20,000 ships, especially when CTF-150 had other tasks as well. He said the flotilla's main goal was just to make its presence felt in those otherwise lawless waters.

The incoming Danish commander of the CTF-150 seemed slightly intimidated by the task he had just agreed to take on. In addition to Canada and Denmark, the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Pakistan contribute ships to CTF-150.

“This problem cannot be solved by military presence at sea; … at some stage there needs to be solutions ashore, otherwise it's just too easy for pirates to operate from their bases on shore. It doesn't matter how many [war]ships we pull into an area, they will still be able to hijack ships if they can operate safely from a base in the area,” Commodore Per Christensen said.

Just how 1,000 Canadian sailors ended up hunting for pirates off the coast of Somalia is a complicated story. Some might call it mission drift: CTF-150 was initially created under Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. military response against al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

As U.S.-led forces prepared to invade Afghanistan, a coalition armada assembled in the Arabian Sea. Six Canadian warships, including the hulking, 36-year-old Iroquois, sped to the region.

Over the intervening seven years, the mission shifted from supporting the Afghanistan war to aiding the 2003 invasion of Iraq. More recently, the force – which is under the regional command of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain – has taken on the broader, less tangible task of providing security and stability across an area that's more than six million square kilometres in size. Inexorably, CTF-150, which was created to fight terrorists, found itself chasing pirates.

Commodore Davidson, for one, doesn't see anything strange about how the mission has evolved. A submariner by trade, he compared the anti-piracy effort to eliminating background noise so that they could focus on what the real enemy, which he said is still al-Qaeda, is up to.

“Operation Enduring Freedom started as counter-terrorism. But looking for terrorists in a maritime environment is a major challenge,” he said. “There's a lot of illicit activity, smuggling, … then buried inside all of that are the nasty people, the terrorists, who are trying to do harm to others. So, Operation Enduring Freedom, although principally targeted at that bottom layer of terrorists, has to deal with some of the other layers, just to simplify the environment so you can find what you're looking for.”

The Canadian and coalition ships actually saw far more of the Iranian navy than they did suspected pirates. Despite rising international tensions and tit-for-tat threats over Iran's nuclear program, Commodore Davidson said his dealings with the Iranians were always “very professional and very courteous.”

After more than three months at sea, the Iroquois, Calgary and Protecteur begin the journey home on Tuesday after a wary last lap through the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal. A fourth Canadian warship, the frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec, will remain in the region providing protection to World Food Program ships delivering food aid into Somalia.


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