UNCLOS and naval ships

The right of innocent passage with some caveats of course.  

HMS Defender's highly visible transit past the Crimea coastline, off Cape Fiolent, is the latest bout of heated tensions in the Black Sea and in this article I'd like to present some aspects relating to UNCLOS.   

The UK sailed a warship within 12nm territorial waters near to the main Russian naval base.  The location of the event was corroborated by satellite imagery and AIS data.  Also nearby was the Dutch warship HHLMS 'Evertsen', (not in territorial waters).  Still in the Black Sea is the US Navy destroyer, 'USS Laboon'.

The incident was quickly escalated via the media and on social media. Interestingly, a BBC journalist crew and a Daily Mail reporter were onboard the vessel and the BCC showed footage and gave accounts of the events, (more on this later).   

The Russian MoD was VERY quick in releasing information, its version of events, which ultimately caused a flurry of lurid headlines, given the reported spectacular nature of actions, the firing of warning shots, taken to get the Royal Navy destroyer to leave territorial waters. Although the journalist onboard reported that the shots were out of range. 

The information needs to be treated with a pinch of salt and are some kernels of truth are hidden away in the mass of posts, articles and reports.

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Naval sitrep 30 May 2021

Quite a few changes, with NATO exercises moving into the Mediterranean and soon the Black Sea.  In addition the UK aircraft carrier entered the Mediterranean and HMS Queen Elisabeth will exercise alongside the French carrier 'Charles de Gaulle' before taking part in Operation Shader, in the Eastern Mediterranean.

30  May 2021 sitrep
30 May 2021 sitrep

Likewise, a significant group of US Navy ships are now off Crete. The group of ships include: 

Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), 

USS San Antonio (LPD-17), 

USS Carter Hall (LSD-50)  

as part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group (IWOARG)

Also at Crete: ESPS Navarra (F85) & USNS Yuma (T-EPF-8)  - Souda: USS Laboon (DDG-58) + US submarine.

Russian Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean — snapshot of activity

A snapshot of the Russian Navy escorting Iranian shipping from the Suez Canal to Syria.

Back in April there was uncorroborated information circulated on social media, announcing that Russia was to protect the Iranian ships — in particular the tankers carrying vital oil supplies to Syria.  Yet, it wasn't readily known whether this would be a regular mission for the Russian Navy.   For a while now, tankers and cargo ships heading to Syria would go “dark” on AIS after transiting the Suez Canal. Hardly any Russian warship regularly uses AIS, so any information on escorts is sketchy to say the least.

The following article provides some details on an escort carried out by the Russian Nav back in October 2020.  Very little information is available on other escorts undertaken since then, until now. This is how the escort was framed by the UK tabloid newspaper, the Daily Express: with its lurid far-fetched clickbait headline,  — WW3 stuff, hardly.

The reality is more mundane, with all likelihood elements of NATO SNMG2 keeping tabs on both the Russian Navy in the region and also Iranian shipping, but it is Israel that has more at stake in this matter, (more on this later).  The UK sent a patrol ship to the region recently as part of the NATO 'Operation Sea Guardian'.  HMS Trent was last in Cyprus after having been off the coast of Port Said and also and the Levant coast too. Add this, NATO SNMG2 ships were in the Syrian channel (between Cyprus and the Levant).

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Overview of air missions — April 2021

From time to time, I gather and compile basic statistics on US / NATO/ Swedish flights principally near to Russia, (see previous articles posted here under the tag #air missions). The idea is to get a rough snapshot of the activity, location and types of aircraft that carry out intelligence-gathering missions, broadly known as Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance, (ISR), as well as those in direct support of those missions. It is a thankless and time-consuming task, but hopefully it can offer a semblance of having a wider perspective on issues, other than just riding on emotional off-one events, without providing any context.

The US and NATO (and Sweden) routinely send out a variety of aircraft dedicated for ISR missions along or in proximity to Russia. These missions are tasked with monitoring the military status quo, namely the movement of units and in particular the deployment of equipment and ships. Given the ongoing Ukraine-Russia tensions, the data collecting took on another aspect in the last month, namely what kind of activity and response could be seen. Well, the answer is that the skies got a little more crowded in April.

Going through the figures for April shows a marked overall increase in ISR the Black Sea region compared to other regions. Not surprising considering the military build-up in Crimea and in southern Russia, in response to the re-deployment of Ukrainian military hardware and units to Eastern Ukraine.

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