Maritime Security in the Gulf Region
© 2008 FrontLine Defence (Vol 5, No 3)

“All Challenges Squarely Met” is not only HMCS Charlottetown’s motto, but the reality of the Navy’s contribution in the ongoing war against terrorism while deployed for Operation ALTAIR. Operation ALTAIR is Canada’s maritime contribution to the continuing U.S.-led campaign against ­terrorism known as Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

On 1 November 2007, Charlottetown, with 250 officers and crew and a CH-124 Sea King helicopter, departed her homeport of Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a six-month deployment – joining the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group in the Gulf region to conduct Maritime Security ­Operations (MSO).

The objective of MSO is to establish and maintain stability and security in the maritime region being patrolled by denying international terrorists the use of the seas to launch attacks or transport personnel and weapons. The mere presence of HMCS Charlottetown in the region deters these groups from conducting known illicit and terrorist-related activities.

How does MSO in the Arabian Sea help Canada’s security at home? The Navy is at the leading edge of the Canadian Forces’ response to the evolving security environment. Contributing to Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, through participation in Operation ALTAIR, is a longstanding part of Canada’s involvement in the campaign against terrorism, and directly supports our national interests by enhancing the security of Canada and Canadians at home and abroad. The Navy’s work overseas assists in eliminating and disrupting illicit activities that may harm Canadians in other parts of the world or at home.

Why is maritime security so vital in this region? Control of the maritime domain is vital to global prosperity and is thus vital to Canadians’ way of life and that makes it Navy business.

Global prosperity depends on the close integration of the international economy and is sensitive to shocks and disturbances. Almost 90% of the world’s production of goods and raw materials is shipped by sea – and 66% of global oil production transits through three ­vulnerable chokepoints in the Gulf region. The participation of Canada’s Navy in MSO in this area of the world promotes stability and prosperity in Canada.

During her first two patrols, Charlottetown provided assistance to three vessels in distress and intercepted a vessel carrying illicit cargo with ties to the Taliban.

While conducting MSO in the Arabian Sea in January 2008, Charlottetown was tasked to locate and board a contact of interest with links to terrorism. With her unique range of sensors and intelligence network, Charlottetown detected a dhow that was in the same vicinity of the contact of interest. During the ship’s approach, we noticed the crew of the dhow abandon the vessel using two skiffs and, in response, I ordered the ship’s helicopter, callsign “Osprey,” to intercept the two skiffs and direct them to return to the abandoned dhow. In the mean time, my Boarding Team boarded and gained control of the unmanned dhow for a vessel inspection. They discovered between 8,000 and 10,000 bottles of alcohol, with a market value of about one million dollars, which had the potential to finance significant terrorist ­activities. This intercept has made a ­tangible contribution in reducing the financing ability of the Taliban to mount future attacks.
The Canadian Navy has provided an active deterrence to terrorist activities in the region, thereby contributing to regional and international security. We have developed and enhanced existing relationships among Gulf States and other coalition allies and, over the course of the deployment, have maximized operational effects in the region by assuming a leadership role in several operations.

In itself, this has provided visibility among the various allied ships currently in theatre regarding Canada’s strong commitment in taking the lead in contributing towards international peace and stability. Canada’s maritime forces are uniquely ­postured to project Canadian power and influence.

There is no doubt that this is a one of the most complex and volatile regions of the world. Historically, Canada has taken the lead in many aspects of assisting her allies and regional partners in working to bring stability to this part of the world. Charlottetown has led the coalition of ships currently in the region during this portion of Operation ALTAIR with an 86% operational tempo, which means that the ship spent 114 of 133 days at sea conducting operations.

In addition to this being Charlottetown’s third deployment to the region, the ship is the fourth Canadian ship to deploy on Operation ALTAIR since 2003 and is the 21st deployment of a Canadian naval vessel to the Gulf region for operations in the campaign against terrorism.

The reality of having a warship deployed to this region, conducting operations such as ALTAIR, is the best way for the Navy to be able to support Canadian interests when called upon to do so.
Commander Patrick St. Denis is the Commanding Officer on HMCS Charlottetown.
© Frontline Defence 2008