Greetings, Readers. In addition to the clearing and disposing of inert mines, this year’s International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) incorporates Maritime Security Operations (MSO), which includes drills to protect commercial merchant ships transiting dangerous corridors. International navies are working with commercial shipping representatives to coordinate naval escorts through high-risk shipping lanes. Escort ships (including coastal patrol ships), embarked security personnel, and visit, board, search and seizure teams form the core of these operations.
The protection of commercial shipping and safe transit operations are a critical shared interest that transcends typical geopolitics, which is reflected by the participation of more than 30 merchant vessels from over five major civilian shipping companies in this year’s MSO maneuvers.
A key component of MSO are the Reserve Component Sailors from the Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS), who coordinate these important military-civilian maneuvers here in the NAVCENT Area of Responsibility. During the exercise, NCAGS acts as the link between the international naval forces and commercial shipping. NCAGS maintains support of the maritime environment by helping to resolve any potential conflicts between Navy operations and merchant shipping. It is also unique because it is manned solely by reserve Sailors.
The number of commercial merchant ships participating in this year’s maneuvers has quadrupled from last year’s MSO exercises during IMCMEX. This increase in participation from the shipping industry has been a welcome development for Cmdr. Clement Wong, the officer in charge of NCAGS here in Bahrain during this year’s IMCMEX.
“NCAGS serves as an important bridge between naval forces and the shipping industry,” said Wong. “Ensuring safety of shipping lanes and freedom of navigation is at the center of what we do. We are so pleased that an increased number of commercial ships have chosen to participate in this year’s exercises, as it reflects the importance the industry has placed on maritime security. ”
Eighty Sailors from 40 U.S. Navy reserve units are on-hand in Bahrain to support this year’s IMCMEX, many of whom belong to one of six NCAGS units.
MSO, when performed in conjunction with Maritime Infrastructure Protection (MIP) and Mine Countermeasures (MCM) operations, comprises the concept of “port to port” protection of shipping and commerce from its origin point to its destination. Separately, each of these mission areas is potentially susceptible to failure as their required area of expertise is high, but limited in capacity and scope. However, when joined together these components form a formidable defensive capability – devised of a variety of international forces–capable of protecting shipping from violent extremist threats.
With a quarter of the world’s navies participating including 6,500 Sailors from every region, IMCMEX is the largest international naval exercise promoting maritime security and the free-flow of trade through mine countermeasure operations, maritime security operations, and maritime infrastructure protection in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility and throughout the world.