Hans-Joachim Stricker, Vice-Admiral (ret.) of the German Navy and Chairman of the MS&D Conference: At the focus of the MS&D conference – maritime security, climate change and the offshore sector
Admiral Stricker, which are the subjects at the MS&D Conference 2012 which you as Chairman regard as particularly important?
The change in the maritime environment, the security of maritime logistics, and the development of future maritime capabilities will be the key issues for us this year. A subject I would like to emphasis in particular is “A Changing Maritime Environment”, because developments in this area have a special impact on everything in the maritime industry. Maritime safety, climate change, and the new dynamic in the offshore sector are issues which will concern us particularly in the short to medium-term future.
MS&D 2012 is being conducted in the framework of SMM, the world’s leading maritime industry fair. What are the benefits gained from integration into SMM?
SMM brings a great many companies, specialists and maritime experts to Hamburg, so I feel it was absolutely right for MS&D 2012 to go alongside SMM with this “concentration of effort”, providing an additional forum for exchange of views and information.
At the same time, that gives participants at MS&D and visitors to SMM the benefit of having everything close together. If you like, that means people can switch quickly and easily between hardware and software – a very appealing feature, I believe.
Up to July 2010, you played a major part in the development of the German Navy, as its Commander-in-Chief. What changes have there been in the range of tasks to be accomplished by national navies?
The range of tasks to be accomplished by navies throughout the world has widened substantially today, compared with the situation 20 years ago. It now includes not only the conventional role of defence, but also many new tasks in maintaining maritime security, such as surveillance of the economic zones, support in disaster events even in far distant areas, and defence against piracy and terrorist attacks at sea.
What changes are needed in ship types, weapon systems and technical equipment in order to respond to future challenges?
So far, we have been well able to master the challenges by adaptation of equipment, training and manning of the ships. But in the long term, we will need ship types characterised by modularity and a high degree of automation. What I mean by modularity is that ship, sensors and weapons will no longer be so rigidly interconnected as they are today. The ideal would be to have a range of different containerised modules ready for use on one platform – they would then be fitted as needed, depending on the operations to be undertaken. In addition, we need units which can stay at sea for long periods, give their crews a reasonable level of comfort, and have sufficient capacity to take additional personnel and material on board.
Do you feel that the possibilities of international cooperation have been exhausted?
It is nothing new if I say that the possibilities of national and international cooperation are by no means exhausted. One of the benefits of MS&D is that it is an outstanding platform to sound out further possibilities of cooperation. Very good work is already being done in cooperation at international level – for example in Operation ATALANTA and in the UNIFIL mission off the coast of Lebanon. In development and equipment, an improvement in cooperation is not only possible, but indeed necessary, particularly here in Europe.
ATALANTA has not been able to solve completely the problem of pirate attacks and hijackings of ships off the coasts of Somalia. How do you assess the effectiveness of this operation?
The effectiveness of an operation can always be judged only with respect to the mission assigned to it. The mission of ATALANTA is to get the ships of the UN World Food Programme safely to Mogadishu. Since the hijacking of the Danish merchant ship Danica White in 2007, there have been no further hijackings of ships of the UN World Food Programme following the start of Operation ATALANTA. So we can describe Operation ATALANTA as very effective. And the number of hijackings in the Gulf of Aden has also been substantially reduced by the EU, NATO and international operations. It has been shown that, provided the captains keep to the recommendations and regulations given, relatively safe passage can be ensured. But it is also evident that the naval operations are only combating the symptoms, and cannot eliminate the underlying causes of piracy.
More and more shipowners are putting armed security personnel on board when they send their ships through these dangerous waters. Is that the right way to address the problem? What needs to be done to make the international shipping routes more secure?
Our experience shows that putting security personnel on board is still the most effective way of protecting against pirate attacks. That is why the legal basis for on-board armed security personnel needs to be better regulated. I do not know whether or not it is the right approach. At any rate, it is one way of providing protection from piracy. Regional and multinational efforts are needed to make the international shipping routes safer. A good example of the improvement of security at sea is what has happened at the Strait of Malacca. The coastal states there have agreed on close cooperation in defence against pirates, and have succeeded in improving security considerably in these waters.
How do you assess the danger to shipping from terrorist attacks?
There is very little dependable knowledge on this. Attacks by terrorists on ships have taken place – I refer for example to the attacks on the United States Navy destroyer Cole and the tanker Limburg. So we are well advised to include the maritime sector in any comprehensive analysis of combating terrorism.
Ports are particularly sensitive points in the international logistic chains, and are hard to defend. How much discussion will there be at the Conference on new methods of defence and protection against asymmetric threats?
Panel II “Security of Maritime Logistics” is entirely dedicated to this subject. Speakers from the areas of logistics, shipping companies, coastguards and port authorities will make presentations, and give information on the current situation and future requirements.
Climate change and its consequences for the maritime economy are a key subject at MS&D. What is the relationship here between civilian and military responsibilities?
The regulations on climate change mitigation and environmental protection are applicable equally to civil and military units. So it is essential to consider the impact of climate change from a holistic viewpoint, and to draw the appropriate conclusions for the civil and military sectors. I believe the resulting activities not only affect one another, but they are practically the same in both areas.
What possibilities do you see that the knowledge discussed and obtained at the Conference will have a sustainable impact on security efforts?
The MS&D Conference is of course not a body that can make binding decisions. But it does give participants a wide range of subjects, solutions, experience and insights, which will then be incorporated in key areas of their everyday work. I believe that is a decisive effect of the Conference, and that is very much what the organisers want to achieve, that is Hamburg Messe und Congress GmbH (HMC) with the partners DVV Media / Griephan and the German Maritime Institute (DMI).
The interview was conducted by Dr. Uwe Cardaun on behalf of Hamburg Messe.