Blog AnalysisInterviewmaritime piracy

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

(credit: Ministry of Defence)

(B2 in Brest – exclusive) From the Gulf of Guinea, with piracy, to the Arctic, with the opening of the Polar Silk Road, through the fight against pollution in the Bay of Biscay or the protection of nuclear submarines from too curious glances, the vice-admiral of the squadron Jean-Louis Lozier does not lack fields of action

The man has three caps, one civilian and two military (see box). How not to tackle all the roles.

Is European cooperation working well today?

Yes. When the CONRO [container-ro-ro cargo ship] Great America sank in the Bay of Biscay, and I triggered crisis management operations, I was able to quickly benefit from Spanish anti-pollution resources. Easily. A bit like calling my colleague from the Mediterranean maritime prefecture! We have an old, proven collaboration with the 'Vizcaya map' (1). The request for support was made directly between our respective organizations, without requiring prior political agreement. We then coordinated our flights to optimize the detection of pollutant slicks. Their radar was, for example, more efficient at certain times of the day than ours. We favored 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 means. Chartered and financed 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, provided by the company CLS, and financed by EMSA. Very useful means for spotting pollution. These satellite images allow us to have a first alert. They allow us to only deploy our resources wisely. We send a plane to refine the detection and then act.

What if the same thing happens in Spain?

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

Was it the sinking of the Prestige that led to this reorganization?

The Spanish organization was revised after the Prestige. Indeed. It's a bit their Amoco Cadiz (2). A disaster that forced us, on the French side, to strengthen our organization. With each maritime crisis, we complete our system and realize that cooperation is vital.

We are in Brest, a stone's throw from Île Longue, where the submarine nuclear force is based. Is this your responsibility?

No. The command center of the strategic oceanic force, which is located several tens of meters below our feet, in the 'granite', depends on ALFOST [the Admiral commanding the Strategic Oceanic Force]. My primary responsibility is to ensure the protection of the SSBNs [nuclear ballistic missile submarines] during their entry and exit maneuvers from the Île Longue base, until their diving and their dilution in the depths. For this, I have mine hunters who guarantee the safety of the access channels, anti-submarine frigates or air assets dedicated to anti-submarine warfare.

Are the Russians there?

For several years now, we have witnessed 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, does it become a passage?

Indeed, the Rhone [metropolitan support and assistance building] also crossed the Northeast Passage from the Norwegian Sea to the Bering Strait in September 2018. It is a strategic area and will become more and more so. This is not my area of ​​responsibility in terms of sea rescue, but if a problem happened to a French ship, it would be difficult to do nothing. We must therefore consider everything.

Are there any differences compared to 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 when an incident happens, you have to deploy and train regularly, learning in some way. For two years, we have been actively participating in a sea rescue exercise off the coast of Greenland with the Danish navy.

The Arctic also attracts the Chinese?

Clearly, the great North is an area of ​​interest for everyone, France and Europeans included. The Chinese are establishing themselves there. The Chinese shipping carrier COSCO has announced that it will use this sea route. His investments in Iceland, Norway, and Greenland are no coincidence. The polar “Silk Road” opens.

Another area of ​​interest, the Gulf of Guinea. Despite all efforts, acts of piracy or banditry are increasing?

It's true. But it is progressing. African countries are equipping themselves and coordinating. There are operations where pirates are defeated. What happened with the G-Dona 1 recently (3), could not have been realized five years ago. The MDAT-GoG (Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea), which is part of the maritime security center of expertise, the MICA Center, was contacted quickly. The COM [Maritime Operations Center] of Togo 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 a real desire among our African partners 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 haven't we set up an Atalanta-type operation?

We are not at all in the same situation on all levels, political and operational. In Somalia, there was a failed state when the operation was launched. 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 flow of (merchant) ships going 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. Brigandage is increasingly taking precedence over piracy itself (4). The means of action cannot be the same…

Are you sure ?

Imposing an international operation would be counterproductive. This would cause States to lose interest or reject the operation, or even both at the same time. And the Europeans are already there. A Portuguese patrol boat 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 We Are, recently there was a Portuguese team. This is how we create reflexes of European cooperation. And with the programs GoGIN et Swaims (5), there is indeed complementarity between the action of the States and the EU.

What more should be done?

Persevere. We cannot stop forms of crime, often endemic, of this magnitude 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 means of surveillance and air-sea intervention. The legal corpus must adapt, in order to be able to prosecute offenders. Just like we do in Europe. Monitoring, intervening and dissuading through heavy sanctions are inseparable in the fight against maritime insecurity.

You often use the word 'European', is Europe essential?

It's part of my daily work. I host the MICA Center a few steps from my office where French, Spanish, Portuguese and Belgian military personnel work. Working together, doing exercises together creates habits. Cooperation becomes natural. It is important. Europe must not remain a virtual idea. We must always do something concrete. Europeans need to gain confidence in themselves.

(Comments collected by Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

The three caps of the admiral

Admiral Lozier wears three hats. First cap: that, civilian, of maritime prefect. It coordinates State action at sea in three sectors: the implementation of relief actions (in the event of an accident or disaster), regulation (issuance of orders), sustainable development at sea. Second cap: military this 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 hat: he commands the Atlantic maritime district (military ports and support for the maritime forces in the region). Finally, even if he has no European responsibility per se, the Admiral has one more star to his credit: Europe.

Face-to-face interview at the premises of the maritime prefecture of Brest in November 2019

  1. Signed in 1999, updated in 2009, the Vizcaya Plan is an operational document providing for joint intervention procedures between the maritime prefecture of the Atlantic and SASEMAR (Society of Salvamento Marítimo y Seguridad Marítima), for salvage, pollution control or assistance to a vessel in difficulty in the Bay of Biscay.
  2. This 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 remains in our memories. With the Erika then, this sinking led to awareness and a series of reforms in France and 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 patrol boat from the Togolese navy. Eight pirates are arrested and handed over to the Togolese maritime gendarmerie.
  4. Acts of robbery take place in the territorial waters of States, unlike piracy, which is rampant on the high seas. On the high seas, any State ship has the right, and even the duty, to intervene.
  5. Launched in December 2016 by the Union, the programGulf of Guinea Inter-regional Network'(GoGIN) aims to improve maritime safety and security. The program for 'strengthening criminal justice systems in West and Central Africa' (Swaims) 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 €XNUMX million).

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).