Piracy and other maritime crimes are the subject of Navy-led training involving 20 other nations
Piracy, once a scourge on Southeast Asian seas, is on the decline, thanks in part to multinational training led by the U.S. Navy, the commander of Destroyer Squadron 7 said Thursday.
Naval forces from 21 countries wrapped up 10 days of drills on Friday in which sailors trained to fight piracy, drug trafficking, human trafficking and illegal fishing in their country’s waters. The Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training Exercise, or SEACAT, kicked off in Singapore on August 16.
The annual exercise aims to create international cooperation, a key tenet of US strategy in the Indo-Pacific to counter an assertive China as well as reduce lawless behavior in the region. Although China is not mentioned in the Navy’s public statements, it does use key phrases that overlap with its response to the rising Asian giant.
“The maritime domain is the lifeblood of the global economy and must remain free and open to function properly,” Commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, said in his opening remarks on 16 august. “Our respective governments have all independently decided that it is also in our national interest to uphold the international standards that govern the maritime domain and which are applied without prejudice to the benefit of each nation.
In one scenario, a team of eight sailors from the Royal Malaysian Navy stormed a commercial tanker in the Straits of Malacca on Tuesday to thwart a possible takeover by armed terrorists.
“I would say the biggest challenge we probably face is making the training realistic enough to give each country an opportunity to grow without making it so difficult that they can’t get anything out of it,” the commander said. of Destroyer Squadron 7, Capt. Tom Ogden, told the Stars and Stripes by phone Thursday.
According to destroyer squadron spokesman Lt. jg Mohammad Issa, this year’s SEACAT also marked a “welcome return to normal” as the first opportunity in two years to conduct the exercises in person rather than virtually.
“We were able to accomplish more together in person, while being able to build on the virtual skills learned during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in an email Wednesday.
The first half of the exercise included seminars on topics including search and seizure protocols, unmanned aerial systems and understanding the complexities of ensuring a secure maritime environment. The U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team has scheduled two days of workshops, for example, on visit, boarding, search and seizure procedures, Issa said in a news release from the Navy on August 17.
During the second week, participants moved from the classroom to their ships for real-life exercises at sea, including the tanker exercise by the Singapore team.
The results speak for themselves, according to Odgen. He said that by working together to standardize procedures and responses between participating countries, illegal activities such as piracy are on the decline.
“Piracy is much less prevalent in this [area of responsibility] than 20 years ago, and that is due to national reactions,” Ogden said. “The Republic of Singapore Navy, the Indonesian Navy and the Malaysians have done a tremendous job in responding to piracy over the past two decades and have somehow solved this problem.”
However, illegal fishing and drug trafficking, for example, remain serious problems in the region. The Biden administration has called unregulated fishing one of the “greatest threats to the health of the oceans” and a significant cause of overfishing, according to a June 27 national security memorandum on illegal fishing, no declared and unregulated. Illegal fishing is often linked to forced labor and other crimes, the memo notes.