Naval forces from the United States along with African and European maritime partners commenced the fourth annual multinational exercise Saharan Express 2014, March 6.
Exercise Saharan Express 2014, being held in waters off West Africa, is an at-sea maritime exercise designed to improve cooperation, tactical expertise and information sharing practices among participating nations in order to increase maritime safety and security in the region.
The week-long exercise will take place in two areas near the coasts of Cabo Verde and Senegal. There will be an in port preparatory phase and then the 11 participating ships will go to sea to test maritime security skills.
“Over the course of the next two weeks, we will work on interoperability, communications, coordination and familiarization. More than that, though, we will work to come together more closely as a team linked by the common purpose of ensuring regional maritime security,” said Capt. John Tokarewich, Saharan Express 2014 exercise director, in remarks during an opening ceremony in Dakar. “Through cooperation on events like Saharan Express, we are able to provide a more robust and unified team to ensure regional maritime security.”
While the Senegalese hosted the opening ceremony and is providing the port facilities for a majority of the ships, senior leaders and participants recognize this is a truly international collaborative event.
“Together, we will build brotherhood, friendship, and the essential confidence to counter the challenges that we collectively face,” said Rear Adm. Cheikh Bara Cissokho, Senegalese chief of navy staff. “Over the course of these seven days of intense activities, I am convinced that we will achieve the assigned objectives of reinforcing our command and control systems, perfecting the techniques of our boarding teams, practicing interoperability of capacities and common procedures.”
Saharan Express aims to test a wide variety of skill sets such as visit, board, search and seizure, medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers (MOCs). Participants will execute tactics and techniques within scenarios that mirror real world counter-piracy and counter-illicit trafficking operations as well as actions taken to deter illegal fishing.
Exercise Saharan Express is one of four Africa-focused regional “Express” series exercises facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. The exercise serves to demonstrate and test skills that are developed as part of Africa Partnership Station and ongoing efforts to increase maritime domain awareness. Started in 2007, Africa Partnership Station is an international security cooperation initiative, facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, aimed at strengthening global maritime partnerships through training and collaborative activities in order to improve maritime safety and security in Africa.
African partners expressed the importance of this type of collaboration through the Express series exercises and ongoing APS activities.
“The techniques, tactics and procedures that will be practiced during this exercise, as well as the substantial efforts of our partners, actively contribute to addressing illicit trafficking and illegal fishing,” Cissokho said. "It will also lead to dismantling the arms trafficking networks that contribute to terror groups, those in armed conflict, and illegal activities in the region."
Cooperation is key to success, echoed Tokarewich.
“Already, we are seeing the benefits of regional collaboration. More cooperation among the partners can only help with addressing the problems of maritime security, such as stopping illegal fishing and illicit trade, while promoting a more stable economic environment,” said Tokarewich.
Participants in Saharan Express 2014 include Morocco, Mauritania, Cape Verde, Senegal, Liberia, France, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands United Kingdom and the United States.