‘Channel Committee’ naval chiefs focus on seabed security threat

UK Royal Navy 2017
The UK Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Portland – pictured here in 2017 – escorted Russian navy ships through the North Sea in early January 2023. (Crown copyright/UK Royal Navy 2017)

London – In its most recent annual meeting, the ‘Channel Committee’ (CHANCOM) naval chiefs forum addressed the risk to seabed critical national infrastructure in the Channel/North Sea region.

CHANCOM is an informal engagement mechanism for chiefs of navies whose countries border on the Channel and North Sea. Membership includes Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Collectively, these European countries focus on issues in the Channel and North Sea maritime area. In this geostrategic context, the CHANCOM forum provides an opportunity to improve mutual understanding and discuss topics of mutual interest.

Observer countries – namely, Italy, Portugal, and Spain (who all sit on Europe’s southern maritime flank) – are also invited.

Hosted on a rotational basis, the latest CHANCOM meeting took place in Portsmouth, UK on 6-7 February, and included a visit onboard the UK Royal Navy (RN) Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender. Also present at the event was NATO’s Commander Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), the RN’s Vice Admiral Keith Blount.

In a social media post on 7 February, French Navy Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Pierre Vandier said “On the agenda of the discussions [was] the subject of control of the seabed and critical underwater infrastructure.”

The strategic importance of such infrastructure in the Channel/North Sea region was brought into sharp focus in September 2022, when two gas pipelines on the seabed in the Baltic Sea – Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 – suffered explosions. In a statement following the attack, NATO said “All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.” Another area of security concern in the North Sea/Baltic region is the growing number of wind farms at sea.

The CHANCOM region is also an area of renewed focus for high-end naval activity, especially as it as a routine transit corridor for Russian Federation Navy (RFN) vessels sailing between northern waters and the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas. For example, in early January 2023, the RN Type 23 frigate HMS Portland shadowed the RFN frigate Admiral Gorshkov and its accompanying tanker as they sailed through the North Sea.

Such is the returning focus on high-end presence in the Channel/North Sea region that, in 2020, the French Navy’s FS Charles de Gaulle carrier strike group deployed there for the first time in a decade.

by Dr. Lee Willett