Norwegian Commander Henning Knudsen-Hauge handed over the command of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) to the Lithuanian Commander Audrius Venckunas with a ceremony held remotely due to COVID-19 measures on 18th June, NATO Maritime Command announced. The Commander of NATO Maritime Command, Vice Admiral Keith Blount, attended the ceremony via video conference.
During the past five months, SNMCMG1 Norwegian command provided NATO with continuous presence in the North, reassuring Allies and deterring any potential aggressors. They monitored NATOs sea lines of communication, contributing to maritime security, routinely trained together with Allies and Partners to enhance interoperability, and cleared Allied waters from historical ordnances, leaving the sea a safer place for all modern seafarers – all this amidst an ongoing pandemic.
“I am humble and proud of the efforts, professionalism and adaptability the crews of SNMCMG1 have shown during the last months. The deployment turned into something we could not foresee, with COVID-19 forcing us to impose strict rules and regulations on our crews. No shore leave was granted during port visits and logistical stops, and we stayed at sea for prolonged periods – all this in order stay fit, healthy and operational to fulfil our commitment to our Allies as a ready force. We are all in this together”, said Commander Knudsen-Hauge.
During the rotation, nine ships have contributed to SNMCMG1, several of them with valuable experience from live mine countermeasures operations from current operations in the Persian Gulf and from Libya in 2011. Their sharing of knowledge and experience has enhanced the group’s overall knowledge. In total the group carried out five historic ordnance (HOD) operations over a total period of 49 days, covering more than 95 square nautical miles, and clearing a total of 45 mines.
The German flagship, FGS Donau, provided to the Norwegian Commander by the German Navy, proved to be a highly functional and effective command- and logistical platform, especially during the pandemic. “The German crew in particular have served as good ambassadors for Germany, for the German-Norwegian Navy-to-Navy cooperation, for SNMCMG1 and for the collective defence of NATO”, concluded the proud Commander.
The incoming Lithuanian Staff and Commander Venckunas for the next six months will be embarked on board LNS Jotvinges, continuing to ensure readiness and posture in the maritime component of the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.
“First of all, it is a big honor for me to assume the duty as the Commander of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One and at the same time a big responsibility. It was a long journey towards this day and not always an easy one. Especially the last three months, when due to COVID restrictions, we had to change and adapt our training and preparation programme. I am grateful to Commander Knudsen-Hauge and his staff for all the support they have provided us. BALTOPS 2020 was the final preparation event for me and my staff. Now I am fully confident that we are ready for duty and ready to fulfill NATO’s crucial mission”, said Commander s.g. Audrius Venckunas.