Our coastline may ‘only’ measure 67 kilometers, but maritime traffic in our Belgian waters is one of the busiest in the world. Defense also plays an important role in guaranteeing the safety of a zone of no less than 3500 km2.
The Maritime Information Crossroads (MIK), the nerve center for the security of our waters, is located in the Zeebrugge Naval Base. Within the MIK, four partners work together on the security of our so-called Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ): the Federal Public Service Mobility, Customs, Police and Defence. The last three deploy a permanent presence in the Marine Base of Zeebrugge, where every morsel passes maritime information.
Defense not only provides infrastructure for the MIK, but also two Coastal Patrol Vessels (CPV) for safety reasons: the P901 Castor (CSTR) and the P902 Pollux (POLX). The duties of these two patrol vessels are quite diverse. “It’s actually easier to explain what we don’t do than what we do,” says Nicolas Van Damme, POLX commander. Coastguard activities occupy a large part of the patrol vessel’s working hours. “Think in particular of fisheries controls, maritime pollution controls (MARPOL) and search and rescue,” the commander continues. “It sometimes happens that we ask for assistance from one of our three partners, because some activities are beyond our responsibility.” For example, when a ship shows suspicious sailing behaviour, the captain passes this information on to the MIK, they weigh up the situation and then decide which of the four will take charge of the situation.”
“Of course we also carry out tasks within the framework of our national security,” adds Mathilde Langedock, commander of the CSTR. “When non-NATO ships enter our waters, it’s up to us to keep an eye on things. We then shadow them and pass on all relevant information to the MIK.” Of course, these ships do not just appear on the radar. Through close contact with neighboring countries, the MIK is constantly informed about this.
“Once a month there is also an OPERA on the program. Here one of the four partners takes the lead and we then carry out checks in our EEZ,” Langedock continues. “Since the POLX and CSTR each take a two-week wait, the operation alternates regularly between the two. “We are on duty per ship for about half of the year to be able to intervene in the event of a possible deployment,” she concludes.
Both ships operate with a permanent crew of 15 soldiers, supplemented by specialists in function of their assignment.