Italy-NATO
The new Spanish Command of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 pose by the flagship Spanish AEGIS-class frigate Alvaro de Bazan. Photo: Spanish Navy.

During a ceremony held in Rota, Spain, the Command of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) was officially handed over to Spanish Navy Captain Manuel Aguirre Aldereguía on 30 June 2020. The outgoing Commander, Rear Admiral Paolo Fantoni, Italian Navy, held the Command of the Group for a six-month duration from December 2019. The NATO pennant was lowered on board the outgoing flagship, Italian FREMM-class frigate Fasan, and hoisted on the incoming flagship, Spanish AEGIS-class frigate Alvaro de Bazan, on which the new Command will be embarked.

The ceremony was conducted in full compliance with preventative measures set in force for COVID-19. The companies of both flagships, having spent a quarantine period on board of their respective units, could attend the ceremony without added risk. Attending the ceremony were four VIPs, representative of the Italian Navy, Spanish Navy and the United States Navy. Their presence on the flight deck of Fasan necessitated protective equipment and social distancing to guarantee the safety of the ship companies.

During the Italian Command of SNMG2, 13 different units from Italian, Bulgarian, Canadian, French, Greek, Romanian and Turkish navies have been part of the Task Group. A separate Task Unit, assigned to the Aegean Sea activity, routinely included five units from three different NATO countries. SNMG2 deployed in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea for a total of 173 days, providing high readiness patrols and presence in their areas of operations.

SNMG2 has provided NATO with a very high readiness force at sea, despite COVID-19 emergency, capable of performing multinational exercises and operations giving assurance to the Allies and deterring any potential aggressors. The Group has supported NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian (OSG), monitoring Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs), contributing to Maritime Security, while the Aegean Sea Task Unit continuously monitored the migration crisis, with units from Hellenic and Turkish Navies, under the command of a German naval unit and Commander.

During a 20-day Black Sea deployment, SNMG2 participated in passing exercises with partner nation Georgia, exercising with the Georgian Coast Guard. In the final week of the Italian Command of SNMG2, the opportunity arose to conduct passing exercises with two units of the Tunisian Navy, followed on from a successful visit to Tunis, prior to the virus outbreak in February.

In January Standing NATO Maritime Group Two interacted with FS Charles de Gaulle Carrier Strike Group, providing an invaluable opportunity to enhance interoperability and inter-allied cooperation.

I want to thank Rear Admiral Paolo Fantoni, his staff, and all of the ships who have contributed so much to Standing NATO Maritime Group Two for the last six months. Bravo Zulu! The global COVID-19 pandemic has set us all challenges. Together, you have worked with professionalism and dedication to overcome the difficulties presented by the situation, and demonstrated the strength and adaptability of NATO to our Allies and to those who watch us. I am sure that Captain Manuel Aguirre will continue on the same course, and contribute to develop and prove the readiness of our forces at sea,” said Vice Admiral Keith Blount, Royal Navy, Commander of NATO’s Allied Maritime Command.

I’m truly honoured to have been at the Command of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two. I have taken Command from four different flagships, from Italy, Canada and Turkey. I want to congratulate all the men and women who have worked hard towards the objectives of our operation, and finally wish the best to the incoming Commander of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two,” said  Rear Admiral Paolo Fantoni, Italian Navy, Outgoing SNMG2 Commander.

Italy-NATO
The incoming Commander of SNMG2, Captain Manuel Aguirre of the Spanish Navy, poses by the flagship frigate Alvaro de Bazan. Photo: Spanish Navy.
I am honoured to be taking command of SNMG2 – NATO’s very high readiness maritime response to threats posed by terrorism and extremism and to the regional instability. I am confident that we will continue to uphold the core principles of our Alliance: solidarity, unity and cohesion,” said Captain Manuel Aguirre, Spanish Navy, Incoming SNMG2 Commander.