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Spanish sailors and U.S. sailors and Coastguardsman use a rigid hull inflatable boat to transit the port of Cartagena in Spain on May 12, 2017 during Phoenix Express. U.S. African Command sponsored the multinational exercise for the purpose of improving maritime policing in the Mediterranean.
Spanish sailors and U.S. sailors and Coastguardsman use a rigid hull inflatable boat to transit the port of Cartagena in Spain on May 12, 2017 during Phoenix Express. U.S. African Command sponsored the multinational exercise for the purpose of improving maritime policing in the Mediterranean. (Carl P. Zeilman/U.S. Navy)
Spanish sailors and U.S. sailors and Coastguardsman use a rigid hull inflatable boat to transit the port of Cartagena in Spain on May 12, 2017 during Phoenix Express. U.S. African Command sponsored the multinational exercise for the purpose of improving maritime policing in the Mediterranean.
Spanish sailors and U.S. sailors and Coastguardsman use a rigid hull inflatable boat to transit the port of Cartagena in Spain on May 12, 2017 during Phoenix Express. U.S. African Command sponsored the multinational exercise for the purpose of improving maritime policing in the Mediterranean. (Carl P. Zeilman/U.S. Navy)
Turkish boarding teams practice a simulated raid on the Turkish frigate TCG Gokceada on Thursday, May 11, 2017, during Phoenix Express in Cartagena, Spain. The multinational exercise seeks to improve countries' maritime policing skills and cooperation between countries to strengthen security in the Mediterranean.
Turkish boarding teams practice a simulated raid on the Turkish frigate TCG Gokceada on Thursday, May 11, 2017, during Phoenix Express in Cartagena, Spain. The multinational exercise seeks to improve countries' maritime policing skills and cooperation between countries to strengthen security in the Mediterranean. (Justin Stumberg/U.S. Navy)
Turkish teams practice tactical movements after they board the Turkish frigate TCG Gokceada onThursday,  May 11, 2017 during Phoenix Express in Cartagena, Spain. Sponsored by U.S. Africa Command, the multinational exercis is designed to improve maritime policing in the Mediterranean.
Turkish teams practice tactical movements after they board the Turkish frigate TCG Gokceada onThursday, May 11, 2017 during Phoenix Express in Cartagena, Spain. Sponsored by U.S. Africa Command, the multinational exercis is designed to improve maritime policing in the Mediterranean. (Justin Stumberg/U.S. Navy)
Algerian sailors check an autocannon turret aboard the frigate Rass Keltic on Thursday, May 12, 2017, to prepare for Phoenix Express. U.S. Africa Command sponsored the 11-day exercise designed to improve maritime policing in the Mediterranean.
Algerian sailors check an autocannon turret aboard the frigate Rass Keltic on Thursday, May 12, 2017, to prepare for Phoenix Express. U.S. Africa Command sponsored the 11-day exercise designed to improve maritime policing in the Mediterranean. (Justin Stumberg/U.S. Navy)
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.
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. (Tunisia Navy)
Tunisian sailors practice detaining suspects on Thursday, May 13, 2017, in Bizerte, Tunisia, during Phoenix Express.
Tunisian sailors practice detaining suspects on Thursday, May 13, 2017, in Bizerte, Tunisia, during Phoenix Express. (Tunisian Navy)

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.

wyland.scott@stripes.com Twitter: @WylandStripes

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