27 May, Bay of Tallinn – Minister of Defence Sven Mikser received an overview yesterday on the progress of the Baltic Sea’s largest mine countermeasure operation, Open Spirit 2015, and thanked Estonian and allied countries’ naval personnel for making sea lanes safer.
Aboard the Estonian mine countermeasures vessel, Sakala, Mikser was briefed by the operation commander, Estonian Navy Commander Capt. Sten Sepper – on the course of the mine clearance operation. As of yesterday morning, 137 naval mines and eight other explosive charges had been found, which is a record for the Open Spirit mine clearance operations in Estonian waters. Thirty-seven explosive charges were deactivated.
Most of the ordnance was found in the operations area around the islands of Naissaar and Aegna. The defence minister watched today as a World War Two-era mine of German origin with a payload of 550 kg of explosive was destroyed.
“During this major international operation, the personnel of the Estonian Navy have displayed prowess as mine clearance experts and the Navy commanders have once again proven their capability to successfully lead a large international operation at sea,” said Mikser aboard the Sakala. “I thank our naval personnel and those of NATO and European allies for making Estonian waters safer.”
The commander of NATO’s Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1, Dutch Lt. Capt. Peer Bergen Henegouwen briefed Mikser aboard the German auxiliary vessel Donau on the activity of SNMCMG 1.
Fifteen countries, 18 ships and 7 teams of divers – a total of over 800 naval personnel – are participating in Open Spirit, which started on 15 May.
The main goals of the operation, which runs until 29 May, are to clear Estonian sea routes of explosives from the world wars and to promote interoperability between the units participating in the operation. Open Spirit is being held in Estonian waters for the seventh time.
Led by the Estonian Navy, the operation has three operations areas – the Bay of Tallinn, Irbe Strait and the coast of Muhu and Saaremaa islands. In the Bay of Tallinn and the Irbe Strait, mine countermeasure ships are operating, tasked with detecting, mapping and neutralizing explosive ordnance found in their operating area.
An explosive ordnance disposal diver camp is located at the Port of Lõunaranna on Muhu Island. It is the base of the mine divers operation in the coastal waters off Saaremaa and Muhu. Teams of explosive ordnance divers from seven countries – the US, Estonia, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Poland and Latvia – are taking part. The diving operation is being supported by the Tasuja, an Estonian Navy diving vessel.
The Estonian Navy is taking part in the mine countermeasures operation with the minehunters Admiral Cowan and Sakala as well as with the aforementioned Tasuja.
Besides about 100 Estonian Navy personnel, about ten Defence League members from the marine division of the Tallinn defence district are participating. They Defence League members are serving as staff officers on the operations staff, ship’s officers on Navy vessels and liaison officers on allied vessels.
The following ships are taking part in Open Spirit 2015: Lobelia (Belgium), Admiral Cowan, Sakala, Tasuja (Estonia), Willemstad (Netherlands), Skalvis, Kursis (Lithuania), Virsaitis (Latvia), Rauma, Maaloey (Norway), Mewa (Poland), Eridan (France), Sturkö, Kullen (Sweden), Donau, Auerbach (Germany), DEN M/V Blue Capella (Denmark) and the HMS Quorn (United Kingdom). Besides the ships, five surface drones are being used to detect explosives.
Participating countries are Belgium, Canada, Denmark Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Open Spirit is a mine countermeasures operation organized once a year by the navies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with command of operations rotating among the organizing countries. Open Spirit was last held in Estonian waters in 2012.
Tens of thousands of naval mines were deployed in the Baltic Sea during World War 1 and World War 2.