There are a lot of hazards on the bottom of the seas. Most of them have been delivered by man during times of war and local conflicts. It is estimated that during the First and the Second World War about 200,000 sea mines, torpedoes and bombs have been placed in northern European seas. Most of those devices reside in the Baltic, the Straits and the North Sea and still pose a serious threat.The accident which happened in 2005 shows just how destructive mines can still be. The dormant mine lying on the sea bed for several decades turned deadly when caught in a net and hoisted aboard. Three Dutch fishermen were killed in the accident and many others injured. Cheap to produce and relatively easy to field, they can make shipping lanes and straits impassable to military and civilian maritime traffic. Even the threat of sea mines can bring economies to a standstill.
To address the threat of sea mines, the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups (SNMCMGs) patrol the Alliance’s waters 365 days a year. In this piece, the commander of SNMCMG2, which is currently charged with securing the Mediterranean Sea region, explains how NATO counters the danger of sea mines, and also how the flotilla provides a humanitarian service by neutralising unexploded ordnance from conflicts past. Ship’s equipment and abilities, as well as sailors experience, enable SNMCMG1 to undertake a wide variety of tasks. The Group is capable of supporting anti-terrorist operations and is ready to assist in the prevention of crisis situations and conflicts at seas. Units within the group are also able to assist in Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations and non combat evacuation operations, during which civilians are evacuated from threatened areas. These tasks clearly demonstrate that NATO in the form of SNMCMG1 and all NATO nations are determined to keep worldwide peace and safety at sea.
There are four NATO standing maritime naval Groups. Two of them – SNMG1 and 2 (Standing NATO Maritime Group One and Group Two) bring together a large surface vessels like destroyers and frigates. Two other – SNMCMG1 and 2, are composed of minehunters and minesweepers. Groups designated as “One” operate on the waters of northern Europe, and those named “Two” operate in southern Europe. The changing geopolitical situation, and thus the emergence of new challenges and threats means that all teams are now able and prepared to operate on all the oceans, in almost every corner of the world, whenever there is need to use them.. These vessels are under continuous NATO command to perform a wide range of tasks ranging from deterrent presence and situational awareness to exercises and the conduct of operational missions. These groups provide NATO with an immediate operational response capability both in peacetime and in crisis. These four groups comprise the core of the maritime component of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), providing timely maritime support to NATO operations in a contingency.
As of July 2 2018, SNMCMG1 consists of:
Lithuania (Flagship) Hunt-class mine countermeasures vessel, LKL Kuršis (M54)
Lithuania Hunt-class mine countermeasures vessel, LKL Skalvis (M53)
United Kingdom Sandown-class minehunter, HMS Ramsey (M110)