The Mauritanian Navy has unveiled a five-year naval forces development plan which includes the acquisition of two 60 metre offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and an undisclosed number of mid-sized vessels to secure the country’s 754km long Atlantic Ocean coastline.
According to IHS Jane’s, the government also wants to set up three new marine forces companies as the country moves to tighten its maritime boundaries and conduct effective patrols within the 235 000 square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Unveiling the plan during a naval ceremony which at the Nouadhibou naval base, Marines Mauritanie Commander Admiral Isselkou Ould Cheik el-Weli said the two OPVs were already under construction. However, he did not disclose which company or country was contracted to build the vessels.
The navy is seeking to boost its patrol fleet from an estimated 10 patrol and coastal craft which include the flag-ship “Liman el Hadrami” P-601, a Huang Class offshore patrol vessel donated by the Chinese government in 2008.
The small navy’s limited air support capacity has been boosted by the donation of two Airbus Military C212-200 maritime patrol aircraft, suited for search and rescue (SAR) missions, by the Spanish government between 2008 and 2011.
Marines Mauritanie operates from two bases – one in the capital Nouakchott and another in the coastal town of Nouadhibou. It currently employs up to 650 seamen including a naval infantry division and is set to benefit from the formation of three new marine corps companies.
The navy is struggling with a host of maritime crimes which include swells of rickety, overloaded boats transporting African illegal immigrants through its maritime domain en route to Spain.
Because of its porous land and sea borders, Mauritania also faces serious problems of trans-Atlantic drug trafficking, arms trafficking and goods smuggling by organised crime syndicates, some with alleged links to the financing of terrorist militias in North and North-West Africa.
Of late, the Marines Mauritanie has benefitted from US-led international naval security training partnerships such as the annual Saharan Express exercise in which regional naval forces are trained in counter-narcotics trafficking and counter-proliferation operations.
In February this year, marines from the Italian-based Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa trained the Mauritanian naval infantry’s “Fusiliers Marins” group on basic infantry skills, marksmanship and small boat operations, basic patrol skills, first aid, medical training as well as mission planning for leadership.
Apart from Saharan Express, which seeks to develop and strengthen the capabilities of African navies in controlling their territorial waters, Mauritania also participates in other regional US Army-run programmes which include Exercise Flintlock and Exercise Obangame Express.