Expeditionary Strike Group 8 Wraps Up Maritime Security Operations

By Lt. Lesley Lykins, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

ABOARD USS NASSAU, AT SEA, April 9, 2006  - Expeditionary Strike Group 8 transited through the Suez Canal April 7, marking the end of more than four months of maritime security operations in the 5th Fleet area of operations.

Maritime security operations help set the conditions for maritime security and stability while complementing regional nations' counter-terrorism and security efforts.  The goal is to deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

ESG-8, combining the five ships and one submarine in the Nassau Strike Group with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), deployed Nov. 4 from Norfolk, Va., as part of a routine deployment.

While conducting operations in 5th Fleet, the ESG displayed unique capabilities and continuous flexibility.  Its members served as a sea base for operations ashore, worked with coalition and local navies, conducted routine ship boardings and assisted mariners, among other missions.

"I couldn't be happier. I think we've done an outstanding job," said Capt. Marty Allard, commander of the Nassau Strike Group.  "We were very well trained for our operations here."

After arriving in the Arabian Gulf, the strike group's amphibious ships offloaded the 22nd MEU, which was continuing into Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George and amphibious transport ship USS Austin maintained security for Iraqi oil platforms in the Northern Arabian Gulf while working closely with mobile security detachments, coalition forces and the Iraqi navy.

"It was very interesting, having a direct impact on the training and readiness of Iraqi forces that are being trained to take over the maritime security operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf and around the two Iraqi oil terminals," said Lt. Cmdr. Dan Evans, Austin's executive officer.

"I probably had some preconceived notions about how that was going to work out, but when we got up there and embarked the Iraqi Navy and Marines, we found them to be professional, friendly, energetic and eager to accept greater responsibility for maritime security in the [North Arabian Gulf].  Their embarkation will certainly make this a memorable deployment for the crew."

USS Cape St. George served as the flagship for Coalition Task Force 58, hosting British Royal Navy Commodore Bruce Williams and his staff.

"If ever there was a mission that builds consensus and common ground between our coalition maritime forces, it is the maritime security of our sea lanes," said Capt. James R. Yohe, Cape's commanding officer.  "We all share in the benefits of stability and safety on the high seas."

The 5th Fleet ships operated throughout the region, including the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Arabian Gulf.  Often, the ESG ships were on station performing these missions in several different bodies of water simultaneously.

The guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill apprehended 10 suspected Somali pirates and freed 16 Indian crew members from the motor vessel Safina Al Bisarat while conducting operations in the Indian Ocean.  Later in the deployment, USS Cape St. George and USS Gonzales apprehended 12 Somalis after returning fire on three small skiffs suspected of piracy.

"The immense job satisfaction I have gained from providing security and stability on the high seas where USS Cape St. George sailed and doing it in partnership with our coalition allies has made this very memorable deployment for me," said Yohe.

USS Nassau's capabilities and resources played a critical role during the deployment.  Nassau's medical team provided care to distressed mariners in the area as well as the critically injured Somalis transferred to the Nassau after the gunfight with Cape.

Sailors from the Nassau escorted the motor vessel Safina Al Bisarat into Kenyan waters after the crew was freed from suspected pirates. Sailors aboard Assault Craft Unit 2 provided food, water and fuel to the distressed motor vessel Al Manara.

Ships in the ESG participated in several training exercises with coalition forces in the area.  In the North Arabian Gulf, they worked closely with British and Australian ships, while the ships in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean operated with the French, German and Dutch navies as part of Coalition Task Force 150.

USS Carter Hall, a dock landing ship home ported at Little Creek Amphibious Base, Norfolk, Va., conducted an underway replenishment training exercise with the French frigate Courbet.  French and American sailors conducted a cross-deck swap, which gave sailors the opportunity to experience the culture of a coalition Navy.

Nassau, Austin and the 22nd MEU conducted a final exercise with Djibouti before heading out of 5th Fleet.  The exercise offered the opportunity for Marines from the MEU to conduct bilateral training while the Aviation Combat Element practiced low-altitude training and fire-support functions.

"I believe that our efforts down here have been flawless.  The fleet commander praised the ESG's accomplishments and said we've done everything asked of us and we accomplished our missions safely," said Allard.  "We work hard to minimize the risks to the young sailors.  We do want everybody to come home safely having fully accomplished all of our missions."

USS Nassau, USS Cape St. George, USS Winston S. Churchill, USS Austin, USS Carter Hall, USS Norfolk and the 22nd MEU will report to the 6th Fleet commander while transiting the Mediterranean Sea.

(Navy Lt. Lesley Lykins is public affairs officer for the Nassau Strike Group.)

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