US 5th Fleet: Regional maritime challenges cannot be addressed by one nation

Commander Tim Hawkins says focus is on strengthening partnerships in the region

(FILES) This handout file photo courtesy of US Navy shows the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea in formation during a Strait of Hormuz transit on September 18, 2020. The Nimitz and its carrier group has moved back into the Gulf region, bu tnaval commander Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the US 5th Fleet, told AFP on November 28, 2020, the return of the carrier group on November 25 was not connected to any "specific threats," after the killing in Iran of a top nuclear scientist. Tensions in the region are extraordinarily high after the assassination November 27 of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an act still unclaimed, but which Iran has blamed on close US ally Israel. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / US NAVY /  Petty Officer 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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Regional maritime security challenges cannot be addressed by a single nation or navy, spokesman for the US 5th Fleet, Commander Tim Hawkins, told The National on Thursday.

"No one navy or nation can address regional maritime challenges alone. The region is simply too vast and too dynamic," he said in an email interview.

"This is why we are focused on strengthening partnerships, which are getting stronger each day, and accelerating innovation."

The US 5th Fleet is part of several international partnerships, such as the 10-member International Maritime Security Construct, which includes the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, among others.

Last year, the US-led Combined Maritime Forces seized drugs worth about $500 million — "more than the four previous years combined", according to Cmdr Hawkins.

"This year, we're on track to [seize] the same amount, which means we will have [intercepted] $1 billion worth over a two-year period."

US Navy 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr Tim Hawkins at 5th Fleet headquarters in the Bahraini capital Manama in 2021. AFP

The Naval Forces Central Command (Navcent) earlier said that increased patrols in the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea have caused illegal cargo seizures to "skyrocket".

"Last year, we prevented 9,000 illegal weapons from reaching the hands of terrorists and criminals. That’s three times more than the year prior," he said.

In July, Navcent announced it would begin a rewards programme with a maximum of $100,000 for people providing information that leads to the "detection of illegal maritime activity and seizure of illicit cargo" in regional waters.

"When you take 9,000 weapons out of the hands of the people they were destined for, you are making a difference in the region and saving lives," Cmdr Hawkins said.

This month, Centcom said it intercepted a "stateless dhow" from Iran carrying explosive material heading towards Yemen.

"We just stopped more than 70 tonnes of ammonium perchlorate, a powerful oxidiser commonly used to make rocket and missile fuel as well as explosives, from reaching Yemen where it would have led to more violence and instability," he said.

"These facts show we are indeed doing more than ever before, and our full commitment remains."

On Tuesday, Centcom forces said an Iranian-made Shahed series one-way attack drone targeted the Liberian-flagger Pacific Zircon commercial tanker in the Gulf of Oman. There were no casualties from the attack.

"Thankfully no one was hurt, but this hasn't always been the case," Cmdr Hawkins said of the incident.

"Destabilising behaviour propagated by Iran and its proxies is the number one threat posed to commercial [shipping] throughout the Middle East," Cmdr Hawkins said.

"This is why the US Navy is fully committed to working with regional partners to safeguard them and deter the type of malign activity that impacted M/V Pacific Zircon."

Updated: November 18, 2022, 4:05 PM
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