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NATO beefs up naval presence in Baltic sea

BRUSSELS, April 22 (KUNA) -- A group of four NATO minesweepers and a supply vessel left the German port of Kiel on Tuesday to deploy to the Baltic Sea to enhance maritime security and readiness in the region.
"The Group's presence contributes to regional maritime security," said General Philip M. Breedlove, NATO's military commander in Europe, in a statement.
In apparent reference to the Ukraine crisis, he said "that during this period of tension," he felt it appropriate to deploy the naval ships in the Baltic Sea as part of a broad package of actions by NATO's maritime, air and ground forces.
"Our intent is not to escalate the situation, but rather to demonstrate our strong solidarity as an Alliance and increase our readiness," Breedlove stressed.
During the deployment, the group of ships will participate in numerous port visits and participate in an annual mine clearance operation hosted by Latvia next month.
The ships will, together with vessels from partner countries, hunt for mines, torpedoes and bombs laid in the Baltic during the First and Second World War, he noted.
The current flagship of the group is the Norwegian support vessel Valkyrien. Other ships participating include the Dutch minehunter Makkum, Belgian minehunter Bellis, Norwegian minesweeper Otra and the Estonian minehunter Admiral Cowan.
The group is being led by Commander Eirik Otterbu of the Royal Norwegian Navy. (end) nk.bs