At sea, European cooperation works. I see it every day (VA Lozier)

(credit : Defence ministry)

(B2 in Brest – exclusive) From the Gulf of Guinea, with pirates, to the Arctic, with the opening of the polar silk road, through the anti-pollution fight in the Gulf of Gascogne or the protection of the nuclear submarines from curious eyes, the vice-amiral Jean-Louis Lozier (CECLANT) has no shortage of fields of action 

The man has three ‘hats’, a civilian one and two military ones (see box). How can we not talk about all these roles…

Does European cooperation work well today?

Yes. When the CONRO [container ro-ro cargo ship] Grande America sank in the Bay of Biscay, and I launched the crisis management operations, I was able to quickly benefit from Spanish anti-pollution means. Easily. A bit like calling my colleague from the Mediterranean maritime prefecture! We have a long-standing, proven collaboration with the ‘Biscaye plan’ (1). The request for support was made directly between our respective organizations, without requiring prior political agreement. We then coordinated our overflights to optimize the detection of pollutant layers. Their radar was, for example, more efficient at certain times of the day than ours. We privileged them at that time. We have similar cooperation with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA based in Lisbon), which also works very well. We were able to have two additional anti-pollution measures. Chartered and funded by the European Union, one based in Vigo and the other in Brest, they were deployed in less than 24 hours. A real European operation in fact!

Meanwhile, other ships take the opportunity to degas?

The times have changed. We now have the means to monitor several “fires” at the same time, thanks to this European cooperation. We benefit from satellite products called Cleanseanet, supplied by CLS, and funded by EMSA. Very useful means to identify pollution. These satellite images allow us to have a first alert. They allow us to deploy our resources wisely. We send an airplane to refine the detection and then act.

What if the same thing happens in Spain?

We will of course respond! The French will be there, tomorrow as in the past, alongside our Spanish friends.

It was the sinking of the Prestige that led to this reorganization?

The Spanish organization was reviewed after the Prestige. Indeed. It’s a bit like their Amoco Cadiz (2). A catastrophe which had forced us, on the French side, to strengthen our organization. With each maritime crisis, we complement our system and realize that cooperation is vital.
We are in Brest, a short distance from Long Island, where the submarine nuclear force is based. Is it your responsibility?

No. The command center of the strategic oceanic force, which is located several tens of meters under our feet, in the ‘granite’, depends on ALFOST [the admiral commanding the strategic oceanic force]. My primary responsibility is to ensure the protection of SNLE [nuclear submarine launcher] during their entry and exit maneuvers from the base of Long Island, until their diving and their dilution in the depths. For this, I have mine hunters who guarantee the safety of access channels, anti-submarine frigates or air assets dedicated to anti-submarine warfare.

Are the Russians here?

For several years, there has indeed been an upsurge in Russian submarine activity in the Atlantic. The phenomenon should not be exaggerated. But, with our allies, we must remain vigilant. We are watching them closely.

Your command extends to the Arctic. With the melting of the ice, the situation changes, it becomes a passage?

Indeed, the Rhône [metropolitan support and assistance vessel] also crossed the Northeast passage in September 2018 from the Norwegian Sea to the Bering Strait. It is a strategic area and will become more and more so. It is not my area of responsibility in terms of rescue at sea, but if a problem were to arise for a French vessel, it would be difficult to do nothing. So you have to consider everything.

Are there any differences from the Atlantic?

It’s a very special environment. For example, in a fjord, transmissions do not work well between planes and boats. To fully understand the day an incident will occur, you have to deploy and train there regularly, learn in a way. For the past two years, we have been actively participating in a sea rescue exercise off Greenland with the Danish Navy.

The Arctic also attracts the Chinese?

Clearly, the far North is an area of interest for everyone, including France and Europeans. The Chinese settle there. The Chinese shipping company COSCO has announced that it will use this shipping route. Its investments in Iceland, Norway, or Greenland are no coincidence. The polar “silk road” opens.

Another area of interest is the Gulf of Guinea. Despite all the efforts, the acts of piracy or robbery multiply?

That is true. But this is progressing. African countries are equipping and coordinating. There are operations where hackers are defeated. What happened with the G-Dona 1 recently (3) could not have happened five years ago. The Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG), which is part of the Maritime Security Center of Expertise, the MICA Center, was contacted quickly. The COM [Maritime Operations Center] of Togo has sent a patrol boat. The pirates were stopped, arrested and brought back to Lomé. Since the launch of the Yaoundé process [2013], we have felt among our African partners a real desire to take charge of their maritime security, to better share information, to coordinate and to intervene quickly if necessary. It’s a paradigm shift!

Why did we not set up an Atalanta-type operation?

We are not at all in the same situation at all levels, political as well as operational. In Somalia, there was a failed state at the start of the operation. Here, there are 19 sovereign states and a political will to put an end to this maritime insecurity. In the Horn of Africa, there is a current of ships (merchants) that go from West to East, and vice versa. Here, there are multiple ports of arrival, departure, oil platforms, etc. Finally, in the Gulf of Guinea, most incidents take place in territorial waters. Robbery is increasingly taking precedence over piracy proper (4). The means of action cannot be the same…
Are you sure ?

Imposing an international operation would be counterproductive. This would cause States to ignore it or reject the operation, or both at the same time. And the Europeans are already there. A Portuguese patroller is permanently in Sao Tome. We have Operation Corymbe. Spain also regularly deploys a ship in the area. We integrate the teams. On board the BCR Somme, recently, there was a Portuguese team. This is how we create reflexes of European cooperation. And with the GoGIN and Swaims programs (5), there is a good complementarity between the action of the States and the EU.

What more should we do?

Persevere. Crimes of crime, often endemic, of this magnitude are not stopped in a few years. It takes a tenacious investment over the long term. We must continue to support the Yaoundé process. African navies must continue to strengthen their air surveillance and response capabilities. The legal corpus must adapt in order to prosecute the offenders. Just like we do in Europe. Monitoring, intervening and dissuading with heavy sanctions are inextricably linked to combating maritime insecurity.

Do you often use the word ‘European’, Europe is essential?

It is part of my daily work. I host a few steps from my office the MICA Center where French, Spanish, Portuguese and Belgian soldiers work. Working together, doing exercises together creates habits. Cooperation becomes natural. It is important. Europe must not remain a virtual idea. We always have to be concrete. Europeans need to gain self-confidence.

(Interview by Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

The three admiral’s caps

Admiral Lozier has three caps. First cap: that, civilian, of maritime prefect. It coordinates the action of the State at sea in three sectors: the implementation of rescue actions (in the event of an accident or disaster), regulations (issuance of orders), sustainable development at sea. Second cap: military that one, he is the commander-in-chief for all maritime operations in the Atlantic Zone, which extends from South to North to the Arctic. Third cap: he commands the Atlantic maritime district (military ports and support for the region’s maritime forces). Finally, even if he has no European responsibility per se, the Admiral has one more star to his credit: Europe.

Interview conducted face-to-face in the premises of the Brest maritime prefecture in November 2019

  1. Signed in 1999, updated in 2009, the Biscay Plan is an operational document providing for the modalities of joint intervention between the maritime prefecture of the Atlantic and SASEMAR (Sociedad de Salvamento Marítimo y Seguridad Marítima), for the rescue, the fight against pollution or assistance to a ship in difficulty in the Bay of Biscay.
  2. This oil tanker, chartered by the Amoco company and flying the flag of Liberia, ran aground near the Breton coast, opposite the village of Portsall, on March 16, 1978. Then it broke in two a few days later. Its 227,000 tonnes of crude oil escaped, causing an oil spill that was remembered. With the Erika then, this sinking leads to an awareness and a series of reforms in France as at the European level.
  3. Attacked by a team of eight pirates, on the night of Saturday, May 11 to Sunday, May 12, the G-Dona 1 benefited from the intervention of a speedboat and a patroller of the Togolese navy. Eight pirates are arrested and handed over to the Togolese maritime gendarmerie.
  4. The acts of robbery take place in the territorial waters of States, unlike piracy, which is rife on the high seas. On the high seas, all State ships have the right, and even the duty, to intervene.
  5. Launched in December 2016 by the Union, the ‘Gulf of Guinea Inter-regional Network’ (GoGIN) program aims to improve maritime safety and security. The ‘Strengthening Criminal Justice Systems in West and Central Africa’ (Swaims) program supports the development of a legislative framework and cooperation for the prosecution of maritime crimes. Managed by UNODC, it is financed almost entirely by the EU (5.9 million out of a total budget of six million €).

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).