Multinational exercise strengthens maritime policing in Mediterranean

Tunisian sailors practice detaining suspects on Thursday, May 13, 2017, in Bizerte, Tunisia, during Phoenix Express.


By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 15, 2017

Thirteen Mediterranean countries are taking part in this year’s Phoenix Express, an exercise aimed at improving their ability to protect vital shipping lanes, and thwart human trafficking, drug smuggling and other criminal activities.

Sponsored by U.S. Africa Command, the 11-day maritime policing drills were launched last week in Cartagena, Spain, and will end on Friday. Most of the at-sea simulations are being carried out in North African waters.

It has the same purpose as the much larger Obangame Express held in March. A key difference is that Phoenix Express involves European and North African countries that abut the Mediterranean, while Obangame’s emphasis was on western African nations.

Capt. Daniel Hopkins, the tactical command officer for the exercise, said it had evolved since it began 13 years ago.

“It gets better because of the people that make sure the boardings go correctly,” Hopkins said. He added the people who assess the training also work to make it more effective every year.

This year’s participants are Algeria, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, the Netherlands, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.

Various nations’ maritime forces must cooperate, communicate and do search-and-seizure raids on ships properly. One exercise tests their ability to combat the smuggling of illegal goods. Teams also work together to practice search and rescue for vessels in distress.

“Ideally the participating nations leave Phoenix Express with a baseline skill set that they can continue to build on, train from and evolve into a competent boarding team,” U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Andrew Ray said.

Twitter: @WylandStripes

In a simulated raid, Tunisian sailors practice search and seizure techniques during the at-sea phase of Phoenix Express on Thursday, May 13, 2017, in Bizerte, Tunisia.

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