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MENAFN - Khaleej Times - 29/09/2012

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Divers carry out safety stops from a 50m ascent during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise. Over 3,000 sailors from 20 ships participated in the exercise. — Royal New Zealand Navy
(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) International navies are sparing no effort to keep regional waters safe for commerce.

They are joining forces and improving coordination to keep critical chokepoints like the Strait of Hormuz free from threats.

This is the message from the largest international mine clearing exercise region involving more that 30 countries.

The drills concluded on Thursday, with the US Navy reiterating its commitment to the security of the Middle East.

Vice Admiral John W. Miller, Commander of the US Navy's 5th Fleet and the US Naval Forces Central Command, speaking from Bahrain, termed the exercise a success and said it will ensure security of the region and keep trade routes open.

''We had the opportunity to test new technologies and understand new perspectives. It was a great example of a very robust international capability to clear mines,'' he told Khaleej Times during a teleconference.

Minesweeping exercises were held in the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and the Gulf of Aden over 12 days. Air, sea, and undersea forces responded to simulated sea-mine attacks to restore freedom of navigation. Over 3,000 sailors and 20 minesweeping ships, including 10 minesweepers took part in the exercise.

The US Navy maintained the exercises were defensive in nature and when questioned about Iranian intentions, and tensions in the region over its nuclear programme, Vice Admiral Miller said it would be best to pose them to the Tehran regime.

On the issue of Iranian naval presence in the Arabian Gulf, he said: ''We operate in international waters and they have a right to operate here.'' There are daily interactions with the Iranian naval forces to keep communication channels open, he said.

The 5th Fleet Commander also clarified that Israel is not part of the 5th Fleet's area of responsibility, and declined further comment.

"Training alongside international partners is crucial to the success of this type of naval activity," said Commodore Simon Ancona, United Kingdom Maritime Component Commander. "Exercises like this really go a long way in bringing us together, they enhance cooperation and hone maritime capabilities in support of long-term regional stability and interoperability."

Rear Admiral Kenneth Perry, Vice Commander, Naval Mine Anti-Submarine Warfare Command and Commander Task Force, said ships, helicopters, divers, and undersea vehicles operated across over 1,000 miles of the region, "confirming our ability to respond to maritime mine threats in the tough undersea environment".

One of the new technologies used during these exercises was the Blackfish sea drone. This unmanned water craft can patrol an area on its own, or be remotely controlled by a sailor. It could also be used a robotic probe for ships and has a longer endurance sonar.

Some 500 ships sail through the Strait of Hormuz, the only sea passage from the Arabian Gulf to the open ocean and the rest of the world. About 300 of these ships are energy carriers, which in a typical week will transport about 100 million barrels of oil through the Strait's two-mile wide outbound traffic lane to fuel economies around the globe.

The US Energy Information Administration in an August report said: "The blockage of a chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs. In addition, chokepoints leave oil tankers vulnerable to theft from pirates, terrorist attacks, and political unrest in the form of wars or hostilities as well as shipping accidents that can lead to disastrous oil spills."

Iran has threatened to block the strait if attacked over its disputed nuclear programme. Western sanction against Tehran have increased tensions and the US has sent additional minesweeping ships which now number eight, and two aircraft carriers to the 5th Fleet. Another carrier, the USS John C. Stennis is expected to arrive in the region late summer, four months ahead of schedule.


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