As part of its enduring mission to ensure maritime security in the Gulf of Aden, the Singapore-led Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 conducted Focused Operation: Vigilant Lion on behalf of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).

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Aircrew from JN41 conducting air surveillance. (Credit: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)

The operation, which ran from 31 August to 8 September, involved adjacent forces in CMF, the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) CTF465, Independent Deployers, and regional counter-piracy stakeholders. The objectives of the operation were to improve maritime domain awareness through information sharing, and enhance assurance to merchant shipping through intensified actions at sea.

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Commander CTF151 Rear Admiral Saw Shi Tat (in white) leading the planning conference for Focused Operation: Vigilant Lion. (Credit CTF151)

The first two days of Vigilant Lion saw CTF151’s flagship JS Akebono and CTF465’s flagship ESPS Castilla performing Zone Surveillance and Protection for multiple vulnerable vessels transiting the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). During this same period, aerial surveillance by the Japanese JN41 squadron, the EU NAVFOR aircraft CISNE and naval helicopters surged, with JN41 significantly increasing their surveillance flights out of Djibouti.

CTF151 also coordinated with multiple maritime agencies around the Gulf of Aden to conduct Maritime Awareness Calls over VHF. The calls encouraged cooperation and communication amongst maritime users, including fishermen and merchant vessels operating in the area.

As part of Vigilant Lion, CTF151 provided a platform for multi-coalition forces to discuss issues related to the potential prosecution of suspected pirates caught operating in the Gulf of Aden. In addition, Table Top Exercises (TTXs) involving CMF Legal Advisors, Senior National Representatives, as well as representatives from EUNAVFOR and the US 5th Fleet, were conducted to better understand the national mandates of contributing nations to counter-piracy operations.

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CTF151 LEGAD leading the Table Top Exercise involving CMF Legal Advisors, Senior National Representatives, as well as representatives from EUNAVFOR and the US 5th Fleet (Credit: CTF151)

Vigilant Lion culminated in a mock-boarding of a US-flagged merchant vessel, Maersk Kensington, by an Indian Destroyer INS Teg. Maersk Kensington had been ‘fixed’ by the Japanese destroyer JS Ikazuchi, after having been located by a combination of satellite and maritime patrol aircraft from both CTF151 and EU NAVFOR.

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INS Teg executing a boarding operation on board US-flagged merchant vessel Maersk Kensington. (Credit: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)

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INS Teg executing a boarding operation on board US-flagged merchant vessel Maersk Kensington. (Credit: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)

The conclusion of Vigilant Lion saw CTF151 liaising with military and non-military maritime stakeholders to deepen information exchange relating to the Pattern of Life in the Gulf of Aden. As a result, regional knowledge of the counter-piracy area of operation has improved, and this will further enhance operational effectiveness in the Gulf of Aden.