By Capt. John Tokarewich
Exercise Director, Saharan Express
Today, a team of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa Sailors had the great pleasure of joining with personnel from 13 partner nations to kick off the at-sea portion of Exercise Saharan Express 2014.
Over the next three days, during this segment of Saharan Express, we will work side-by-side to improve our collective skills in important mission areas such as interoperability, communications, and coordination. More than that, though, we will strive to come together more closely as a team linked by the common purpose of ensuring regional maritime security. This has always been the focal point of Saharan Express, and continues to be the overarching goal this year as well.
To get ready for the at sea portion, boarding teams from Morocco, Senegal, and Liberia worked with experts from the U.S., U.K., and Dutch naval forces to learn new techniques and hone their skills during pier-side training. We also ran the operations centers through a series of maritime interdiction scenarios in order to build better linkages between the various country representatives.
I am extremely proud of the hard work of everyone who helped with planning and preparation for the exercise. Their dedicated, combined effort ensured a very high level of integration and coordination at the start of the exercise.
Since 2011, the Saharan Express exercise has grown in size and complexity. We have added new concepts to the planning, added new partner nations, and new dimensions to the training scenarios. As a result, we have seen the navies involved in this exercise using these skills in real world situations, both ashore and at sea. There has been a definite increase in collaboration between the Western African Maritime Operations Centers, which indicates that the capabilities learned during the exercise are providing the regional navies with the capacity to better share information and coordinate activities. This year, we are building on the foundation of experience and knowledge established in previous exercises, in order to develop an even more robust and cohesive team providing enhanced regional maritime security.
All nations share the ocean, and our citizens can benefit greatly from it, but only if it’s use is consistent with customary international laws. Security of the seas and the ability to govern the seas impacts us all. For example, it is estimated that illegal fishing alone removes tens of millions of dollars from local economies, impacts food security, compromises global marine resources, and destroys marine habitat.
Providing this security within the region is an enormous job that no nation can accomplish alone. It is only possible through the capabilities and teamwork that we are building here in Saharan Express. We must all continue to improve our ability to communicate and coordinate with each other in order to increase our capacity to counter problems such as trafficking of people and illegal materials, narcotics, and illegal fishing.