On April 1st the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg FFH-338 joined Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) in the Gulf of Aden, to participate in Operation ALLIED PROTECTOR to conduct counter-piracy operations.
Photo Credit - Department of National Defense - Canada
Winnipeg was there for an operational mission that was only to last a few weeks, but this grew to a two month operation (talk about scope creep!).
During Winnipeg's mission in the Gulf of Aden she conducted over 100 hails, 20 investigations of suspicious craft, 12 approach operations, 5 boardings and 8 close escorts. During boarding operations, Winnipeg encountered persons suspected of conducting piracy and ended up seizing large caches of weapons, which included AK-47’s, Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers and warheads, M-16 assault rifles, and other assorted firearms and ammunition.
While patrolling the International Recommended Transportation Corridor (IRTC), Winnipeg escorted many ships, including two specific vessels of particular significance to Canada - a supply ship for the World Food Program carrying food relief to Somalia, and a freighter with supplies for Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
On the 31st of May, after completing two months of counter-piracy and escort operations, Winnipeg departed the Gulf of Aden in a "sail past" ceremony with the SNMG1 Flagship NRP Corte Real.
Photo Credit - Department of National Defense - Canada. HMCS Winnipeg sails into the sunset on May 31, 2009, leaving the Gulf of Aden for the waters of Australia
Winnipeg is now on the next phase of her deployment, Exercise TALISMAN SABER, which will take place in late July on the east coast of Australia and which will be conducted with naval units from both the United States and Australia. Winnipeg is expected home at Esquimalt, BC in late August.
Around the same time that HMCS Winnipeg arrived in the Gulf of Aden, the Chinese Navy sent a second flotilla to the same part of the world. The destroyer Shenzhen DDG-167 and frigate Huangshan FFG-570 were sent to replace the destroyers Haikou DDG-169 and Wuhan DDG-171, which had been on station along with the supply ship Weishanhu since early January.
Since it appears that Chinese Navy combatant ship deployments average about three to four months or so, the second flotilla are going home very shortly, having been in the Gulf of Aden May, June, and July. They will be replaced by the third flotilla (also here and video here). The guided missile frigates Zhoushan FFG-529 and Xuzhou FFG-530 have enhanced stealth capabilities compared with other Chinese naval units. Between them, the two ships carry two helicopters and a Special Forces unit.
A new supply ship, Qiandaohu, will replace Weishanhu, which sailed with the first flotilla in January and has been in Somali waters for more than six months.
Since the beginning of the Chinese Navy's mission to the Gulf of Aden on December 26, 2008, eight ships and their crews have been provided with the opportunity to operate far away from Chinese home waters. They have needed to put into practice everything that they know about underway replenishment, helicopter operations, small craft boarding operations, and working with foreign civilian shipping. This kind of experience can't be taught, must exist for any blue water navy, and is vitally important for global strategic goals. I have the definite sense that without the UN resolution, the Chinese military leadership would probably have done this anyway, in order to get the operational experience.