NATO MCM Group clear mines in the Baltic Sea during Open Spirit Ops

Open Spirit
HNLMS Zierikzee and HMS Koster during operations

Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) has wrapped up their participation in Estonia-led Open Spirit, a ten-day operation in the Gulf of Finland aimed at mapping and clearing underwater historical ordnance.

With the participation of 11 nations and 21 vessels, more than 130 historical ordnances were identified and 49 countermined, NATO Maritime Command announced with a press release.

Submerged munitions endanger the environment, shipping, marine infrastructure, and human safety around the world. It is estimated that mine warfare, intense in both World War I and World War II, introduced approximately 160 000 mines to the Baltic Sea, from which, up to date barely 20% have been removed or destroyed in clearance operations.

Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the U.S., including the vessels sailing under the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1, Baltic Naval Squadron (BALTRON) and the Swedish mine countermeasures task unit participated in the Open Spirit operation 19-29 April 2021.

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Photo Courtesy of NATO MARCOM

As part of the operation, the Royal Netherlands Navy that leads the current rotation of SNMCMG1, contributing a staff and minehunter vessel HNLMS Zierikzee, were given a mission to clear a specific future anchorage area in front of the Estonian coastal area of Kunda. With their newest unmanned autonomous vehicle, the REMUS 100 NG, the ship’s crew managed to clear a part of that area, allowing the harbour to work more efficiently in the future and to deliver a vital boost to the local economy.

“It is always a surprise what you will find on the seabed, but sometimes the sea presents its secrets. Operation Open Spirit is an opportunity to mine countermeasures activities in the far east of the Baltic Sea, where the concentration of historical ordnance is high. Thanks to good effort of our units and multinational co-operation we contribute to making the territorial waters of Estonia safer,” said the Commander of SNMCMG1, Commander Jan Wijchers.

The Open Spirit operation also allowed to strengthen the bond with the NATO partner Sweden, including through several seamanship exercises. After the operation, SNMCMG1 is set to continue with their mission, including a visit to Finland.

Open Spirit is carried out annually with its leadership rotating between respective Baltic nations and aims for nations around the Baltic Sea to jointly gather forces to clear and map unexploded ordnance. Activities are usually targeted to most risk-prone areas, and as many as 100 mines could be neutralized per one operation, depending on the clearance zone.

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