Kenya and European Union hold first joint naval exercise

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The longstanding European Union (EU) Naval Force in the Indian Ocean – Operation Atalanta – marked up a first this month when it successfully staged a joint exercise with the Kenya Navy.

The exercise, as per a Kenya Ministry of Defence (MoD) statement, was designed to enhance capacity building in maritime operations with the East African country’s maritime partners. On the agenda for the five day exercise that ran from 20 to 24 May, called Usalama Baharini (“safety at sea” in Swahili) was enhancing inter-operability, information sharing among operation centres, and “practical simulation of legal finish of apprehended maritime offenders”.

EU NavFor, in the form of Operation Atalanta, summarised Usalama Baharani as enhancing maritime security, co-operation and dialogue on regional peace and security issues as well as “sharing knowledge among all participants”.

Both the Kenya Navy and Coast Guard Service took part.

A seminar component saw lectures on the legal aspects of operations at sea, and given the recent number of piracy incidents off the East African coast, maritime interdiction operations.

The practical component, with current Atalanta flagship ITS Martinengo (F596) taking centre stage, saw all involved in Usalama Baharini apply training, knowledge and experience in simulated scenarios. This saw the Italian frigate as a suspected pirate vessel, transfer equipment, materials and personnel suspected of involvement in arms and drug trafficking.

Simulations involving helicopters, high speed boats and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) allowed participants to apply protocols and best practices to real-life scenarios. Special attention was given to the topic of legal finishing or prosecution of pirates, given the ongoing maritime security challenges in the Red Sea and resurgence of piracy in the region.

“Kenya and the EU have a common border – the sea – and the security and stability of the sea is the security and stability of our societies. We must open our eyes to the sea,” Atalanta Operations Commander, Italian Vice Admiral Villanueva Serrano said of the first joint EU/Kenya naval exercise.

Usalama Baharini was jointly organized by EU NavFor Atalanta, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the State Department for Shipping and Maritime Affairs of the Republic of Kenya. There was also prominent support from the EU Delegation to Kenya, with the participation of EU Ambassador HE Henriette Geiger in the different parts of the exercise.

Around 120 representatives from agencies within Kenya’s National Maritime Security Committee participated, including the country’s navy, coast guard service and maritime and ports authorities, along with partners such as IMO, Go Blue, the EU Delegation to Kenya and the Embassy of Spain in Kenya.

The exercise came as the EU picked Kenya as the second country, after the Seychelles, to accept and prosecute suspected pirates.

The European Union Naval Force last week confirmed that Kenya will assist Seychelles in handling maritime crime suspects due to the rise in number of cases reported.

Geiger said maritime security is a concern as it has led to disruption of trade and that the bloc will work with different governments to suppress maritime insecurity, especially as Somali pirates have stepped up hijacking attempts amidst a surge in Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

“EU Navfor Somalia managed to suppress piracy in its previous years but with the current operation Atalanta, the forces will work with different governments to address emerging piracy and the illegal group at Suez Canal,” said the ambassador.

“Seychelles has played a key role in handling suspects arrested in the waters and now Kenya will be another country which EU has entered legal agreement with, to allow for the trial of suspected pirates arrested by warships,” she said.

On 14 May, six suspected pirates were handed over to the Seychelles authorities for trial by Operation Atalanta, after being involved in an attack on the Marshall Islands-flagged Merchant Vessel Chrystal Arctic on 10 May.