On August 18, 2022, the Brazilian Navy (MB) took command of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) for the second time, in a ceremony held in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. CTF-151 is a multinational task force that conducts operations to deter, disrupt, and suppress piracy in the Horn of Africa. It is one of four task forces subordinate to the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), which is a multinational task force under the 34-nation coalition to promote counter-piracy as well as security and stability in approximately 3.2 million square miles of international waters that encompass some of the world’s most important maritime routes, most notably the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea. Diálogo spoke with MB Rear Admiral Nelson de Oliveira Leite, commander of CTF-151.
Diálogo: How important is it for Brazil to take command of CTF-151 for the second time?
Brazilian Navy Rear Admiral Nelson de Oliveira Leite, commander of Combined Task Force 151: Somalia is a poor country that is experiencing the consequences of a long civil war. In order to survive, the population relied almost exclusively on the resources from the sea, which over the years have become scarcer due to predatory extraction by foreign fishing fleets. At the time, former fishermen, poorly equipped and armed, began to carry out some acts of piracy, initially restricted to a few attacks, essentially for the purpose of armed robbery. However, the degradation of Somalia’s governmental structures allowed for the proliferation of criminal organizations operating in its territory and the increase of piracy with a greater logistics organization, team preparation level, and the use of more sophisticated weapons. These conditions caused the incidents of piracy and armed robbery to reach alarming numbers, which in 2008, led the United Nations Security Council to approve a series of resolutions calling on states to support the Somali government in the repression of piracy. It is important to note that Somalia is located in the region with the highest traffic of merchant ships worldwide, connecting Western countries to large oil producers in the Middle East and to large economies such as China and India.
As such, piracy assumed the characteristics of a universal threat and required a global response. In this context, in 2009 the CTF-151 was created. Today the economy is globalized, and all countries suffer to a greater or lesser extent. As such, even though it is far away from our territory, the work performed by CTF-151 contributes to Brazil’s interests.
In addition, the CTF-151 Command also represents an important source of learning and accumulated experiences in the conduct of actions against piracy that can be used in our strategic surroundings. Currently, the West African coast, particularly the region known as the Gulf of Guinea, is one of the main hot spots for piracy and armed robbery worldwide. The Brazilian Navy has been engaged in helping to train and prepare the navies and coast guards of the region to stop these threats, and therefore the knowledge acquired will allow for this training to improve.
Diálogo: How do you fight piracy in an area of more than 3 million square miles?
Rear Adm. Leite: It is easy to see the size of our challenge. To overcome it, we seek to constantly share information with the other CMF task forces, but also with other organizations that operate in the region, such as EUNAVFOR [European Union Naval Force], as well as with regional forces and their Command and Control centers, to establish and maintain, at all times, a high degree of situational awareness. In addition, we have naval assets permanently deployed in the region, which ensure an immediate response to any incidents related to piracy, especially in the so-called high risk area. This area has been established by the shipping industry as a region where merchant vessels are recommended to take action against piracy, encompassing the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin, and in the vicinity of the International Recommended Transit Corridor, which is a recommended shipping lane in the Gulf of Aden. The certainty of a prompt response causes a deterrent effect to potential pirates by curtailing their activities.
Diálogo: How do you see the piracy situation in the Horn of Africa?
Rear Adm. Leite: The current situation shows that the strong response of the international community has been successful, and it can be said that the piracy threat is under control. The last attempted attack occurred in 2019. The creation of the CTF-151, the constant presence of naval forces in the region, and the use of good practices by shipping companies, such as the corridor I mentioned, as well as having an armed guard on board, are actions that have proven effective in suppressing this practice in the region. However, it can be seen that the conditions that encouraged its occurrence in the past remain unchanged and, therefore, if the measures and actions against piracy currently in place are relaxed, this maritime illicit practice may reoccur. It can be said, therefore, that piracy in the Horn of Africa has been suppressed, but not eradicated. Recently, during the annual Maritime Security Conference 2022, it was noted that the various organizations operating in the region share this same viewpoint and the importance of maintaining international efforts to ensure regional security on this issue was stressed.
Diálogo: Your mandate runs from August 2022 to February 2023. Isn’t that a short time for such an important and different mission?
Rear Adm. Leite: Since its creation, CTF-151 has established as a standard a constant rotation of commands, in periods that can vary from four to six months. I believe that this period, which is compatible with the average duration of the deployment of ships and naval forces, was proposed in order to encourage the participation of the largest possible number of member countries in this task, which is very important, but which requires to keep a large number of military personnel away from their duties in their countries’ navies. The MB, for its second command of CTF-151, assimilated several lessons learned and established a detailed training program for the General Staff, enabling personnel to perform their duties immediately after the change of command. In view of this, our understanding is that the mission does not end with the end of our period of command, and therefore it is our duty to prepare our replacements as best we can — that will be the Republic of Korea Navy — and incorporate the necessary knowledge for an eventual new Brazilian command.
Diálogo: The CTF-151 is the coalition of 34 countries. How does interoperability between such different forces and languages take place?
Rear Adm. Leite: All the physical working structure is provided by the U.S. Navy at the Naval Support Activity, the 5th Fleet base located in Manama, Bahrain, where all the members of the CMF and CTF Command work. The Command and Control tools, also provided by the U.S. Navy, use the “Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS),” which allows information sharing through the use of e-mail and web services, instant messaging or chat, a common operational picture, and VoIP telephony. The language used is English for all spoken and written communication. Certainly, there are difficulties. Perhaps the greatest of them stems from the genesis of this mission, which is multinational, with member countries united in a coalition of wills, in contrast to a particular characteristic of our military formation, which values unity of command. In the CMF, each country participates how and when it feels comfortable to do so. Thus, the planning and conduct of operations require a high degree of diplomacy from the General Staff to convince those involved to cooperate. However, we have been quite successful in this endeavor, thanks to the personal and professional skills of our military. On the other hand, the benefits of this coalition’s diversity are many. The daily work is a great opportunity to get to know other cultures and establish lasting relationships with foreign military personnel, which strengthens the bonds of friendship between the navies and, ultimately, between our countries, and is an important tool for peacekeeping.