Brazil hosted the Warships and Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) Latin America Conference, June 25-27, 2019. Navy representatives from 15 countries — Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay — attended the eighth edition of the annual event in Rio de Janeiro. This is the fourth time Brazil has hosted the conference since its 2012 inception. Prior editions took place in Colombia (2014), Ecuador (2015), Peru (2016), and Chile (2017).
With support from the Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese), 130 guests, including service members and representatives from the naval construction sector, and security and defense products, attended the conference. The objective of the event was to propose solutions to develop naval defense policies, to offer information on new resources and means, and to exchange experiences among navies worldwide.
Brazilian service members opened the event by presenting an MB overview. Vice Admiral José Augusto Vieira da Cunha de Menezes, MB commander, said that the force is responsible for protecting the region known as the Blue Amazon, an area of 1.3 million square miles of sea, rich in Brazilian minerals and oil.
New ships on the way
Vice Adm. Cunha said the Submarine Development Program, which is building four conventional and one nuclear-powered submarine, is essential to fulfill this mission.
“The Brazilian Navy, however, is not limited to warfare, it is also a navy that develops social programs, contributes to the development of the defense industry, is committed to international agreements, and works on search and rescue missions,” Vice Adm. Cunha said. “The Brazilian Navy needs to secure properly tested, reliable, and high-tech vessels, with high performance at sea, to complete our thousand tasks and missions.”
According to Rear Admiral Hermann Ibere Boehmer, head of MB’s Procurement and Program Management, the Tamandaré-Class Project, which handles the construction of four corvettes, is the most important project to upgrade MB’s current fleet. “Our vessels need to be upgraded. We have 11 aging surface ships, averaging 36 years. Except for the Barroso Corvette, they have all been operating for more than 20 years,” said Rear Adm. Ibere, adding that the modern Tamandaré-class corvettes are expected by 2024.
Partnering to combat common threats
Most speakers stressed the importance of participating in international missions, training with other navies, and the exchange of experiences and collaboration among countries to fight the threats to security in the region.
“The Uruguayan Navy is well-known for its commitment to peacekeeping missions, although the navy has less than 5,000 members. In recent years we participated in several international missions; we have two bases in Antarctica and we also carry out missions such as maritime search and rescue, border control, and control over jurisdictional waters, an area equivalent to double the country’s land mass,” said Rear Admiral Ricardo Della Santa, commander of the Uruguayan Navy.
Rear Adm. Della Santa also addressed upgrading the fleet of the Uruguayan Navy. To overcome budget challenges, the officer said that Uruguay is considering the acquisition of ships from other countries, including Brazil’s Inhaúma-class corvettes. “Today, on the event’s first day, I made several contacts for projects we intend to carry out, and we will possibly meet partners here to make them a reality,” Rear Adm. Della Santa said. The conference facilitates solutions for these matters.
Captain José Jorge Fortín Aguilar, chief of the Honduran Navy General Staff, spoke about the challenges faced to protect his country’s maritime border, and stressed that combating narcotrafficking is the priority. “From January to June 2019, we made 35 arrests and seized 223 kilograms of cocaine and 69 kg of cocaine paste. We need more personnel, new vessels, and training to be able to complete the mission. A coastal patrol vessel is under construction and will be delivered in December,” Capt. Fortín said.
The conference ended with a tour of the P120 Amazonas OPV, which MB incorporated in 2012 to monitor the Blue Amazon. The vessel has great autonomy and the ability to operate with a helicopter and speedboats.