By Lieutenant (Navy) Linda Coleman
It was an exciting day on May 11, 2018 as members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) shook hands with partner navies from North Africa during the closing ceremony of Exercise PHOENIX EXPRESS 2018 (PE18) in Souda Bay, Greece.
It not only marked the conclusion of the RCN’s first time participating in PE18, but also in three U.S. Africa Command EXPRESS exercises around Africa this year.
“It was a privilege to participate in PE18 with the RCN, continuing the great work and capacity building we’ve been doing around Africa this year as part of the EXPRESS series, including CUTLASS EXPRESS in East Africa and OBANGAME EXPRESS in West Africa,” said Lieutenant-Commander Paul Smith, senior RCN official for PE18.
Led by U.S. Africa Command and conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, the EXPRESS exercises are an ongoing series of maritime security engagements designed to train and assess standard procedures for maritime domain awareness and information sharing for combined/joint maritime interdiction operations.
In January, the RCN sent advisors to East Africa to participate in CUTLASS EXPRESS. Its contribution included strategic engagements in Mozambique and Tanzania to promote maritime security capacity building at the Tanzania and Mozambique Maritime Operations Centres (MOC). RCN advisors provided support and mentorship on maritime security awareness, passing on Canadian expertise in this field.
In March, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships Kingston and Summerside, a detachment of personnel from the Maritime Tactical Operations Group, and an MOC mentorship team were in West Africa participating in OBANGAME EXPRESS 2018 (OE18). This exercise is focused on improving cooperation among participating West African nations and strengthening maritime interdiction operations to increase maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea – an area that is seeing increased illegal maritime activity lately, garnering international attention. It was the RCN’s first visit to Nigeria in half a century.
This was the second consecutive year that the RCN participated in OE18, and the RCN has committed another three to five years of deploying to the area to continue building relationships in the West Africa region, while promoting maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.
By April, RCN observers and assessors were at MOCs in Bizerte, Tunisia, and Souda Bay, Greece, where they observed, assessed and acted as mentors in the area of maritime security awareness, and provided expertise in maritime interdiction operations for PE18.
“These global leadership opportunities help strengthen relationships and partnerships with like-minded navies, and in the case of PE18, also help overcome current challenges that threaten maritime security in the Mediterranean Sea,” added LCdr Smith.
Maritime security in the Mediterranean is vitally important because of the shipping routes that link Europe and North Africa. Illegal migrants have also been crossing the Mediterranean from Africa in record numbers since 2015, causing a maritime security issue in the region.
PE18 North African partners included Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. These countries led the planning and execution of training scenarios that included interdicting illicit activity and providing vessels, teams and leadership to enable the operations of a combined MOC and Surface Action Group. Other countries involved included Canada, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, United States, Libya, Netherlands and Denmark.
“It’s rewarding to be able to help a like-minded nation build their own maritime security capacity while increasing interoperability,” said Lieutenant (Navy) Andrew Brumwell about his experience in the MOC at the Bizerte Naval Base in Tunisia. “The initial challenge in short exercises like PE18 is being able to quickly gain an understanding of capabilities and requirements of the team you are there to advise and assess, and figuring out how you can best use your own skills to assist them. The rewarding side to that is when that team is able to effectively execute the mission presented, you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you were able to achieve in such a short period.”
The RCN’s participation in the EXPRESS series embodies Canada’s New Defence Policy Strong, Secure, Engaged, which values the Canadian Armed Forces ability to anticipate new challenges, adapt to changing circumstances, and act with exemplary capability and professionalism while supporting peace and security around the world.