HMCS Shawinigan and Summerside join NATO Minehunting exercise in North Sea
By NATO Allied Maritime Command
Minehunters from Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) took part in Exercise Sandy Coast in the North Sea between August 21 and September 1.
Recognizing the importance of safeguarding coastal areas, Exercise Sandy Coast has emerged as a vital training ground for honing the skills necessary to protect and secure these vulnerable regions.
An annual exercise, Sandy Coast 2023 was led by the Royal Netherlands Navy and was strongly focused on coastal security and mine-countermeasure activities, especially in very shallow waters. As part of their ongoing Operation Reassurance deployment with SNMCMG1, His Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Summerside and Shawinigan were also proud participants as part of Canada’s contribution to NATO and to maritime security in the Atlantic.
“Exercise Sandy Coast 23 provided us with many opportunities and challenges,” said the Canadian Maritime Task Force Commander and Commanding Officer of HMCS Summerside, Lieutenant-Commander Richard Crowder. “We’ve been working together with our Allies in mine-countermeasure activities, and each Navy has a unique way of executing mine-hunting and clearing. We have come out stronger and with a better understanding of how each-other operates.”
The exercise began at the Dutch port of Delfzijl, from where ships sailed to the Dutch coastal waters north of the Wadden Islands. This area of the North Sea offers a challenging training environment, with shallow waters, strong currents, windfarms and busy shipping lanes.
A combined Dutch and Belgian Very Shallow Water Team (VSWT) containing specialist divers from both nations, practiced searching for mines and improvised devices in shallow waters, including harbours and channels. This joint team demonstrated the strong links and interoperability which exists between these two NATO allies.
Throughout Exercise Sandy Coast, participating ships were divided into two minehunting groups, one of which was led by SNMCMG1.
“We had at our disposal not only units from Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Canada that already belong to the group,” said Commander SNMCMG1, Commander Piotr Bartosewicz, “but also the Finnish mine-laying vessel MHC Vahterpää, which joined us specifically for the duration of the exercise.”
This international formation helped the units improve interoperability among participating nations – refining cooperation, tactics and procedures in the specialist area of mine warfare.
Coastal regions are not only strategic in terms of security but also ecologically sensitive. Participants in Sandy Coast 23 engaged in environmental stewardship and looked to protect the coastline and even considered disaster response situations, emphasizing the need to safeguard fragile ecosystems while maintaining security measures.
In the age of digital connectivity, information sharing is paramount, and the exercise encouraged the sharing of intelligence and information among participating nations, fostering a cooperative approach to maritime security. It nurtured valuable diplomatic ties, promoting NATO’s commitment to defending maritime security in the region. Exercise Sandy Coast also facilitated the exchange of best practice and innovative approaches in mine warfare and maritime defensive capabilities.
The exercise not only increased the operational readiness of participating units, but also strengthened international bonds and the ability to coordinate actions in a dynamic maritime environment.
Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One is a multinational naval task force dedicated to ensuring the safety of maritime navigation by providing a constant and credible MCM capability to the Alliance. The group currently operates in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and the eastern part of the Atlantic Ocean.