Last Friday, 23 May 2014, the five NATO ships assigned to Standing NATO Mine Counter-Measures Group ONE (SNMCMG1) arrived in Riga, along with FGS Elbe, which assumed its new role as flagship for the Group upon Germany’s assumption of command on Monday, May 26.
SNMCMG1 is visiting the port as part of the Group’s deployment to the Baltic to enhance maritime security and NATO’s readiness in the region.
Led by Commander Eirik Otterbu (NOR N), SNMCMG1 is currently composed of the Norwegian support vessel HNoMS Valkyrien (flagship), which will lead the Dutch mine hunter HNLMS Makkum, the Belgian mine hunter BNS Bellis, the Norwegian minesweeper HNoMS Otra, and the Estonian mine hunter ENS Admiral Cowan.
Commander Otterbu formally took command of the Group on 9 April 2014 during a brief meeting with Vice Admiral Peter Hudson, Commander NATO Allied Maritime Command, at Northwood Headquarters. On Monday, Commander Otterbu will hand over command of the Group to Commander Gunther Brassel (DEU N) in a brief ceremony aboard FGS Elbe, which will be conducted by NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Commodore Arian Minderhoud, Royal Netherlands Navy.
During the port visit, Commander Otterbu, Commander Brassel, and the SNMCMG1 staff will meet with numerous Latvian military and civilian officials, to include the Latvian Chief of Defense and the Riga City Council. The ships’ crews will participate in various activities with their Latvian hosts.
The Group will also be joined in port by four ships of the Swedish Navy, and will participate in at sea training activities with the Swedish Navy ships on conclusion of the port visit.
“NATO remains as ever fully committed to the defence of its member states and regularly plans, trains, and conducts exercises and missions for that purpose,” said Commodore Minderhoud. “Maritime units are used to support this core message through demonstrating maritime capabilities and preparedness to counter any threat to the Alliance security. SNMCMG1 is the visible assurance of NATO’s unity, cohesion and resolve.”
During the Baltic deployment, the ships are participating in a robust program of operations at sea, numerous port visits, already including Swinoujscie, Poland, and Ventspils Latvia, and the Historic Ordnance Disposal operation OPEN SPIRIT.
SACEUR, General Phillip Breedlove, reactivated the maritime group on 9 April 2014. This reactivation was confirmed by the North Atlantic Council decision on 16 April 2014 to enhance collective defence and deliver a set of assurance measures in response to the crisis in Ukraine. The Group had been briefly inactive following Poland’s completion of its period in command in January.
Press Release, May 28, 2014; Image: NATO