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Minimizing the impact of the Libyan operation on merchant shipping

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

23 Jun. 2011

NATO is working to ensure that shipping in the Mediterranean, one of the world’s most important shipping areas, is not disrupted by its mission in Libya. Some 30 per cent of all international sea-borne trade by volume comes from or is directed to ports in the Mediterranean or passes through its waters, including 18 per cent of the world's sea-transported oil.

As part of Operation Unified Protector, NATO is helping to enforce the arms embargo around Libya established under UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. The NATO Shipping Centre, based in NATO’s Northwood facility in Hertfordshire, is seeking to minimize the disturbances caused to merchant shipping in the Mediterranean by arms embargo operations.

In support of Maritime Command Naples (MC Naples), the Shipping Centre specifically monitors all shipping activity that goes through the Marine Surveillance Area that covers the Libyan coast.

“The reporting scheme we are running provides MC Naples with valuable information on movement of shipping in the area. This information gives necessary maritime situational awareness, which lays the basis for MC Naples’ conduct of operations,” states Commander Stein Olav Hagalid, Branch Head of the Shipping Centre.

MC Naples handles all ships directly entering Libya. However, the Shipping Centre helps coordinate with shipping authorities and ships themselves, advising on the routes that ships should take to avoid the Marine Surveillance Area or helping them obtain permission to pass through it.

As of 9 June, a total of 1330 vessels had been hailed and 93 boardings had been conducted, since the beginning of arms embargo operations. In eight rare cases -- when it was felt that the shipments may pose a danger to civilians – ships had not been permitted to arrive at their destination but had instead been allowed to dock at their port of choice.

Keeping track of ships

The nature of the conflict has meant that most ships that have no business in Libya have avoided entering the Marine Surveillance Area. To keep track of any ships that do enter the area, the Shipping Centre uses a number of different reporting formats.

The Format Alfa Report is a voluntary report used as part of Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s anti-terrorism maritime operation in the Mediterranean which has been active since 2001. This report is now mandatory for ships entering the Marine Surveillance Area around Libya.

In addition to the report, all ships entering the area must contact MC Naples by either phone, email or any other form of clear communication.

Promoting safety

The NATO Shipping Centre (NSC) website also offers a few helpful resources for any merchant shipping going in and out of Libya, as well as any urgent information about conditions at sea in Libyan waters. For example, once it was confirmed by NATO that pro-Qadhafi vessels were placing mines in the waters around Misratah, the Shipping Centre sent and published a warning.

“The NATO Shipping Centre website is used by posting relevant information on Operation Unified Protector to the international shipping community, among those, active navigational warnings, as well as providing useful information from merchant vessels leaving Libyan harbours who are willing to do so,” explains Cdr. Hagalid.

In addition to general guidance for mariners operating in Libya, the website operates a ‘mariner-to-mariner’ information platform. Here, NATO takes reports on the condition of Libyan harbours from the masters of ships which have docked there, in order to inform other ships that may be running a safety risk.



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