HMCS Charlottetown’s Legal Advisor supports Operation REASSURANCE

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Article / November 1, 2016

By: Lieutenant (Navy) Benoit Plante, Operation REASSURANCE Maritime Task Force Public Affairs Officer

As Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Charlottetown is getting ready to transit the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bridge is getting crowded. There are the usual personnel that we find on the Bridge, such as the Helmsman, the Naval Communicator and the Officer of the Watch. More surprisingly, you will also find that there is the Legal Advisor (LEGAD) to the Operation REASSURANCE Maritime Task Force (MTF), Lieutenant-Commander Mike Baker.

The LEGAD is a Canadian Armed Forces Legal Officer that is deployed with the ship during the deployment on Operation REASSURANCE. He provides legal advice on operational, international, and administrative law, military justice, and all other legal matters of particular interest to the Commander.

Lieutenant-Commander Baker explained to us that “When we are transiting the Strait of Gibraltar, for example, the ship is passing through either Spanish or Moroccan territorial waters. So part of my job is to provide advice to the Commanding Officer on the implications of passing in those waters, and to help him to determine what types of activities Charlottetown can and cannot do at any given time.”

As HMCS Charlottetown is transiting back into the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic to continue with Operation REASSURANCE, Lieutenant-Commander Baker mentioned to us that “from a law of the sea perspective, the Mediterranean Sea is a very complex legal environment, in part due to its long history and the many different states which surround it.”

Therefore, he needs to advise the Commanding Officer on the general provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is the primary reference for understanding maritime law. Moreover, ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea need to understand that passage between it and the Black Sea is governed by the Montreux Convention, that the Strait of Messina represents an exception to the rules about international straits, and that the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea have varying claims to the extent and types of maritime zones off of their coasts.

The use of the boarding party is yet another operational activity requiring sound legal advice. HMCS Charlottetown sailed with an Enhanced Naval Boarding Party embarked, and has an organic Naval Boarding Party as well. “The boarding of a vessel in international waters is something which is only allowed under very specific circumstances in international law. My first job during a potential boarding situation is to assist the Commanding Officer in determining whether or not those circumstances exist, and if they do not then advising him as to what further action needs to be taken in order to make the boarding compliant with international law,” said Lieutenant-Commander Baker.

“The LEGAD’s advice regarding our activities on Operation REASSURANCE is crucial for me,” said Commander Andrew Hingston, Commanding Officer of HMCS Charlottetown. “There are a lot of concurrent activities happening on board the ship; it is important for me to count on the sound and valuable advice from my LEGAD to make sure we respect our legal obligations.”

HMCS Charlottetown is currently deployed on Operation REASSURANCE in support of NATO’s assurance and deterrence measures through the provision of military capabilities for training, exercises, demonstrations, and assigned NATO tasks. Charlottetown has a crew of approximately 250 personnel of all ranks, including a CH-124 Sea King helicopter and air detachment.

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