Latvian Naval Forces (Juras Speki)
The first units of the Naval Forces (NF) were established in 1991. In 1994 the armed forces included 630 in the navy. The armed forces were poorly equipped. The navy has about six coast guard vessels, three patrol craft, two minesweepers, one special-purpose vessel, and one tugboat. Naval Forces have been continuously developed and enhanced and now can successfully perform all the tasks entrusted to them. Naval Forces consist of the War Ship Flotilla (WSF), Coast Guard Ship Flotilla (CGSF), Coast Guard Battalion (CGB) and Search and Rescue Coordination Centre (SRCS).
One of the key development priorities for the Naval Forces is to develop the surveillance system. Its purpose is to ensure the defence of the national sea border and control of the exclusive economical zone. Other priorities include the extension of the Naval Forces’ participation in the Baltic Naval Squadron BALTRON and development of the infrastructure with the main emphasis on the building of the docks in Riga.
Mission of the Naval Forces is to:
- defend the national sea and inland waters;
- monitor and survey the national exclusive economical zones, territorial and inland waters (except rivers and lakes);
- provide the combat and mobilisation readiness of units;
- lead and perform the search and rescue operations at sea, ecological monitoring and catastrophe clearance;
- search for explosives at sea and dispose them.
According to the Republic of Latvia Law on the National Armed Forces, one of the most important tasks of the Naval Forces is to search the sea for explosive objects and to destroy them. Each year, a certain number of the Naval Forces ships take part in mine counter training to improve their mine clearance capabilities, as well as conduct actual mine counter measures, such as Open Spirit, Amber Sea and Mcoplat in the Baltic Sea. Usually mine countermeasures (MCM) ships from neighbouring countries Lithuania and Estonia, as well as Naval Forces units from other countries, take part in such exercises and operations.
Roughly speaking, the depths of the Baltic Sea hide about 80,000 explosive ordnance remains from World War I and World War II. Since the establishment of the Naval Forces in 1992, 770 square miles of the Baltic Sea, namely the Gulf of Riga, Irbe Strait and surrounding areas, have been cleared of explosive objects. In total, 477 objects - ground mines, moored mines, depth charges, torpedoes and bombs - have been found and destroyed, of which 339 were in the Gulf of Riga and 133 in the Irbe Strait.
To improve mine countermeasures capabilities, the Naval Forces purchased four Imanta Class mine hunters from the Netherlands, namely M04 Imanta, M05 Viesturs, M06 Talivaldis and M07 Visvaldis.
Achievements of 2003:
- the professional skills of personnel, the combat ship and staff command and control capabilities have been enhanced:
- planning and commanding of the mine clearance operation “MCOPLAT 03”;
- participation in the mine clearance operation “OPEN SPIRIT 03”;
- participation in the international and local sea and staff exercises;
- drills of crews have been increased:
- participation in the working groups on the NATO war ship armament;
- participation in the BALTRON project;
- a mine laying vessel of VIDAR Class has been procured (on duty as a command and logistics vessel within BALTRON);
- updating of the Submarine Database has been continued;
- participation in the MOST (Maritime Operation Sea Training).
Plans for 2004:
- integration of Latvian countermine vessels to the unified countermine vessel unit of NATO, which is a part of the Mine Counter Measures Force North (MCMFORNORTH);
- by December 2004, certify the locations of storing the NATO classified documentation at the Naval Forces’ Staffs, units and vessels, which participate within the NATO forces;
- by December 2004, procure the NATO-compliant encrypting equipment to be used in the ultra-short wave communications network;
- within the BALTRON project continue the vessel and staff personnel drills;
- participate in mine clearance operations and NATO-led exercises;
- implement the NATO requirements on protection of mine-clearing vessels against NBCweapons (NBC) and inspect the current NBC systems;
- by July 2004, implement the NATO requirements on physical fields of the mine-clearing vessels and perform their de-magnetisation;
- by December 2004, commence procurement of active impact trawls for countermine vessels;
- continue to update the Submarine Database;
- build docks in Riga (Daugavgriva);
- by December 2004, produce the technical specifications and announce a tender for establishing;
- test the vessel m-03 at MOST (Maritime Operation Sea Training);
- review options to procure an oil clearing vessel;
- review options to build ships;
- continue the professionalisation of NF.
Other important Naval Forces tasks include coast guard operations, marine ecological monitoring, collection of oil product samples, search and rescue operations and coordination, and the elimination of the consequences of accidents, oil spills and other incidents at sea. One dramatic example of such incidents is that of the ship Golden Sky (under the Cypriot flag), which went aground in January 2007 carrying 45 tons of diesel fuel and 446 tons of fuel oil. A small contamination was localised, thus preventing possible environmental pollution. Naval Forces personnel were engaged in this operation and in salvage works from 15 January to 8 April 2007.
Along with these tasks, the Naval Forces represent the Republic of Latvia abroad by taking part in various festivals, celebrations and events, such as Kiel Week (Germany), the Battle of Trafalgar 200th anniversary events (Great Britain), and participating in various other celebrations abroad.
In 2007, two MCM ships were purchased from the Netherlands. The mine hunter M03 Namejs first went on an operational mission as part of Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) and became the first Latvian naval ship in history to cross the Arctic Circle. Naval Forces ships have also taken part in other exercises, such as: Open Spirit, Cold Response, Route Survey, Bold Mercy and Balex Delta.
In 2007 the Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Centre (under the command of the Naval Forces Coast Guard Service) received 205 emergency calls, of which 30 were related to search and rescue at sea. The Naval Forces rescued 48 people, 4 of whom were found dead and 4 others were not found at all. In two emergency cases, the Centre provided medical advice and consultation for ships at sea with sick or injured crew members onboard.
The main tasks of the Sea Surveillance and Communications Service (SSCS), which is located in Ventspils, are to provide continuous radar/radio-technical and visual surveillance (in cooperation with naval ships when it is necessary) for the purpose of acquiring full information on ship movements and identities within Latvian territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), to store oil collection equipment and maintain it in working condition, and to take part in the elimination of oil pollution at sea. In 2007, SSCS observed and identified 28,733 sea targets.
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