The government decided Thursday afternoon to combine the Estonian Navy (Merevägi) vessels and those of the civilian Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) into one fleet. Two separate operations centers will similarly be combined.
Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) and interior minister Kristian Jaani (Center), whose ministries, agencies and authorities have been cooperating frequently recently amid the migrant crisis on the Belarus-EU border, both said Thursday that the idea is not new – having been discussed since Estonia regained its independence 30 years ago, but the will at a governmental level is now present and in fact the cabinet is about to formalize the merger.
The merger is to be finalized by January 1 2023, and will see maritime situational awareness, surveillance of the sea border and pollution control being transferred to the EDF/navy's area of responsibility, together with corresponding vessels, while maritime rescue will remain the responsibility of the PPA.
Jaani called the decision an extremely important fundamental change, on which will benefit every person in Estonia and the security of the country as a whole
He said: "As a country, we need to increase the capacity to respond to both hybrid situations and civilian crises at sea. The value of the merger must be volume growth and quality. Therefore, it is important that, upon the merger of fleets, the crews of ships and the task of maritime border surveillance will also shift to the defense forces.
"In addition, the defense forces will in the future perform tasks related to the elimination of marine pollution and, if necessary, support the PPA in maritime rescue in the open sea with ships," Jaani said.
The minister added that it is important for the PPA to continue to have the opportunity to use EDF vessels for the performance of its duties by way of professional assistance, since the PPA will now continue its maritime activities with smaller vessels.
Laanet said that the decision will ensure Estonia's comprehensive maritime security capability both in time of peace and in a crisis.
He said: "The merger of the fleets is the biggest state reform in the near term. For Estonia, situational awareness at sea will improve significantly with this decision, which in turn will give us the opportunity to be present at sea more extensively and in a smarter fashion," adding that the development will improve Estonia's readiness to promptly intervene in the event of a threat and the prerequisites for the allies to respond to conflicts in the region.
"Our goal must be to do more and better as we are jointly performing our national defense and civil tasks," he added.
Estonia's navy comprises several former Royal Navy (U.K.) Sandown-class minehunters, as well as two recently-acquired, Saaremaa-built patrol vessels, while the PPA's four substantial vessels, the Kindral Kurvits, the Pikker, the Valve and the Raju, will be merged with these.
The (civilian) Maritime Surveillance Center and the (military) Maritime Operations Center will also move to a single location and thus be merged.
The merger is intended to bring significant added value and is not just about math, Jaani and Laanet, said earlier on Thursday, at the regular government press conference, added.
While initially the plan was for the Hundipea harbor in Tallinn to become the base for the combined fleet, consideration is now being given to the possibility of accommodating it in the adjacent, renovated Mine Harbor (Miinisadam), meaning no further renovation work would be needed.
A working group will be set up under the leadership of the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior to carry out the transfer.
The transfer of the budgetary resources needed within the framework of the state budget strategy 2022-2025, and the legislative amendments necessary for the implementation of the decision, is to be prepared by March 30, 2022, with the aim of implementing the changes as of Jan. 1, 2023 at the latest, BNS reports.
Meanwhile Taavi Aas (Center), minister of economic affairs and infrastructure, said the merger should save €26 million over a 10-year period.
The PPA and the navy, itself a part of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and not a standalone service, will remain separate entities themselves.
The navy has regularly contributed a vessel to the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1), a NATO immediate reaction force involving several member nations.
PPA and EDF cooperation has been much in evidence in recent days, particularly on Estonia's southeastern border, where nearly 40km of razor wire has been laid down in areas where no border cordon currently exists.
While Estonia does not border with Belarus, reports of a potential opening up of a new migratory route via Pskov, just 30km from Estonia's border, have been the cause for concern.
This piece was updated to include quotes from Kristian Jaani and Kalle Laanet, and details on the timeline of the merger.
Editor: Andrew Whyte