Canada is one of 29 nations that contribute naval assets to Combined Maritime Forces, the naval coalition that promotes security and stability in the international waters of the Middle East. This area comprises some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
Combined Maritime Forces was formed in February, 2002 as the coalition headquarters responsible for coordinating and leading naval participation in the international campaign against terrorism. Over the years, its mandate expanded to include counter-piracy operations as part of international efforts to ensure security in the maritime environment of the greater Middle East.
Combined Maritime Forces has its headquarters in Bahrain. It is commanded by the U.S. Navy Vice-Admiral, who is also the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central (NAVCENT) and the United States Fifth Fleet, both also headquartered in Bahrain. Its deputy commander is a British Commodore from the Royal Navy. Canadian Armed Forces staff and liaison officers serve at Combined Maritime Forces Headquarters under Operation FOUNDATION.
Combined Task Force 150
Combined Maritime Forces comprises three operational flotillas, called Combined Task Forces:
- CTF-150, responsible for maritime security and counter-terrorism;
- CTF-151, responsible for counter-piracy; and
- CTF-152, responsible for security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf.
Canada has deployed frigates to operate with CTF-150 since the beginning of Operation ALTAIR in 2004, and provided the Task Force Commander and flagship in 2008, also under Operation ALTAIR. (source: National Defence and CAF website)
Let’s take a closer look at Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150), who is under the Combined Maritime Forces command, since the Royal Canadian Navy is engaged in it. Currently, seven countries are contributing to CTF-150 providing 15 ships. The role of CTF-150 is to monitor, inspect, board and stop suspect shipping to pursue the GWOT and in the Horn of Africa region. The current contributing countries are Canada, Denmark, France, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
It is not before January 4 that the Task Force began to perform Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) missions, boarding dhows (fishing boats) and oil tankers passing near the Somali coast.
Before that, CTF-150 was doing extensive Anti-piracy operations in Somalia. In August, 2008, CTF-150 established the Maritime Security Patrol Area through a narrow corridor within the Gulf of Aden, aimed at deterring attack and hijacking of ships seeking safe passage through the zone.
Recently, HMCS Toronto, a Halifax class frigate that is part of the CTF-150, made four major drug busts off the east coast of Africa. Many other frigates such as HMC Regina and HMCS Charlettown deployed for Operation Artemis.
This first one occurred in March 2013 in the Indian Ocean. The exact location is unknown due to a CAF counter-terrorism operation. A total between $150-million and $250-million worth of drugs was busted. The money would most likely support international terrorism organizations. DND confirmed that HMCS Toronto seized around 1100 pounds of heroin from a fishing vessel.
The crew tracked the ship overnight from a CH-124 Sea King as it was flying an unidentifiable flag and finally decided to board it the next morning. The drugs were found in more than 500 bags after HMCS Toronto’s naval boarding party searched the vessel. The drugs seized were destroyed aboard the ship but a small quantity was kept for future investigations.
The second one occurred a month later when about 695 pounds of heroin was seized and destroyed alongside 13,000 pounds of hashish.
The third one occurred on October 5 about 800 kilometers east of the Horn of Africa. HMCS Toronto intercepted and boarded a vessel, suspected of smuggling, and seized 154 bags of heroin weighing more than 395 pounds. Commander Matthew Bowen, Toronto’s skipper, said: “A positive outcome like this, seizing and disposing of illegal narcotics whose sale would have funded extremist groups, is a big win for Canada’s counter-terrorism efforts.”
The fourth one occurred on December 18 off the east coast of Africa. More than 1185 pounds of Heroin, placed in 506 bags, was seized. Canadian Forces called this seizure the largest heroin seizure in the history of the combined maritime forces operations.
The Government of Canada announced on October 21 that it will continue contributing to Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) until April 2015. Canada, alongside 28 other countries contributing to the presence in the Arabian Sea under the Combined Maritime Forces, gives them flexibility and capability to respond quickly to emerging crisis in the region.
This video of the HMCS Charlettown during her deployment on Operation Artemis will give you a taste of the work they’re doing.