A Fond Farewell to IMCMEX

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Greetings Readers. As the end of International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2013 has past, and exercise staffs have turned in their reviews of what went wrong and what went right, it’s time to reflect on what the exercise accomplished.

8779354149_53ea5cacbe_zThough ships operated in fewer geographical areas this year, international forces operated in more locations performing a wider variety of missions. Although IMCMEX 12 set a tough standard–more than 30 nations, three widely disparate operating areas–a new year rose to the challenge by widening our objectives and perspectives.

As we have said on multiple occasions, 13 brings us industry participation with very large crude carriers, an increased number of patrol coastal ships from many nations to support infrastructure protection and maritime security operations for naval forces, industry shipping, and at-sea oil terminals involved in exercise events.

8785831850_e72cab684a_zA relative footnote on the serial list, but a major undertaking none the less, were the two casualty drills. As a Navy, we drill medical readiness and responses regularly to ensure that trained personnel are prepared to respond with life-saving speed and expertise. IMCMEX 13 included a seriously cool mass casualty drill where a simulated mine attack on a commercial ship caused extensive damage where mariners were severely injured and needed evacuation to a medical facility. The closest stabilizing facilities were aboard RFA Cardigan Bay and USS Ponce. The cool part comes in where the simulated wounded were made-up to be gruesome in accordance to their simulated injuries.

Any time international navies meet, techniques are developed, best practices are learned, and knowledge is broadened for the betterment of the international community. In this case, it is truly important we take these lesson and continue to apply them to future exercises. Because, it is not one country who benefits from mine countermeasure, maritime security and infrastructure protection proficiency, but all of them. All rely on sea-going commerce after all.

8764812494_1332e2ba31_zThis post isn’t intended to be a re-cap of the exercise, we’ve done that, I’m here to bid a fond farewell to an exciting, complex exercise that embraced a myriad of separate events and knitted them together in a quilt of participation and expertise. Sure, a RHIB broke down here, some computers had trouble syncing up, and some events didn’t get finished due to environmental and safety concerns; but these lessons are the thread that stitches this year’s exercise with future iterations of International Mine Countermeasures Exercise.

So long, biggest little exercise in the world, we’ll see you next time.

-Fleet LT

In the Shallows: Patrol Coastal Pride

27FEB2013 (52)130508-N-PK218-109Why focus on Patrol Coastal ships again? They’re an important part of protecting shipping while in transit, and protecting infrastructure at sea and in the shallows. To further emphasise this, Fleet Forces recently announced that 2 additional PCs will be sent to operate with Manama, Bahrain as their forward deployed home along with a maintenance support team.

The at-sea portion of IMCMEX 13 is just past its center point and PCs have played key roles. Here to talk about what they are contributing to the exercise is Capt. Stephen Evans, commander of Destroyer Squadron 50.

-Fleet LT

120620-N-WB378-044Over 40 nations have joined us here to participate in a wide spectrum of operations designed to protect the routes of international commerce and trade. IMCMEX is a defensive exercise that focuses on keeping vital sea lanes open so the world economy is not affected by acts of terrorism or criminal activity. A stable world economy is dependent upon the unencumbered movement of food, consumer goods, raw materials and energy products through the Arabian Gulf and its associated chokepoints. To ensure these goods continue to freely move through this region, the global community must work together not only during exercises but everyday to keep the sea lanes open.

While Mine Countermeasure ships and divers from the navies of nations throughout the world conduct mine clearing operations other ships will be watching over them to keep them safe. The U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship (PC) sails on the frontline of this defense patrolling the waters of the Arabian Gulf and working with both Gulf Region States and coalition allies performing Maritime Security Operations (MSO) and Maritime Infrastructure Protection (MIP). The PCs are perfectly suited for the complex waters of the Arabian Gulf, where over 80% of operations are in water less than 39 feet, the shallow draft alone gives these ships an edge in the region. Fast and agile with punching power, they have a distinct advantage making them a vital part of operations like Mine Countermeasure Defense.

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As multi-mission ships, the Patrol Coastal ships offer a reliable platform that is flexible in operations and an invaluable force multiplier. While they won’t sit center stage during the IMCMEX, they are a key component to it’s safe and successful execution. I have been proud to watch these small ships shine.

-Capt. Stephen Evans, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 50

Adding Industry to a Military Exercise is Good for the Environment

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IMCMEX is a multinational, defense-based military exercise aimed to address and counter threats in the maritime environment. Industry operates a crucial energy trade and 30% of the world’s crude flows through the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. So how could military and industry combining efforts be good for the environment? Teamwork of course.

FactoryEmerging and established economies the world over have an energy dependency on fossil fuels, some less than others, but the fact remains that with such a large demand these energy sources must be carried in large volumes to help keep operating and transport costs low. Nearly 1/3 of all energy consumed comes from oil or refined oil products, and in 2012 reached 88 million barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons). With all of this oil being pulled from the ground, all over the world, and transported to the countries that require it, there are remarkably few accidents, spills or explosions throughout the process.

effectofoilspillMany would say that even one incident a year, a decade is disastrous to the environment, and they would be right. Though an industrial scale accident, or losing a supertanker to a mine or similar attack, would affect oil prices somewhat; the price of one tanker (aprox. $120M ship + $55M in oil) is relatively inconsequential to the global oil trade (aprox. $9bn/day). The environment is not so lucky.

NOAA_oilspill_1The international shipping community has significantly reduced the number of marine spills over the last decade. Even with this dramatic reduction the prevention of these events must remain a priority. One tanker full of oil can be devastating to coastal and marine wildlife in the short-term, and can change entire ecosystems if not addressed and rectified. There can be many contributors to a spill, be it accidental, malfunction or an act of violence; and several can be prevented. This is why industry training with global militaries is good for the environment.

8267579164_4e311fb809_cA significant portion of IMCMEX 13’s agenda is focused on maritime security operations, to include a commercial shipping escort through a simulated mine field. While mines are not the only form of attack these merchant ships are vulnerable to (waterborne IEDs, explosive laden small boats, piracy, etc.), it is a demonstration of the preventable disaster that would adversely affect the environment. Similar events are being held at offshore oil stations as part of a maritime infrastructure protection focus against violent extremists damaging or controlling important infrastructure in the region.

It is far easier to prevent an environmental disaster than to clean it up, and the Oil Spill Response Seminar and table-top exercise during IMCMEX was designed to address protection and prevention concerns, and how to mobilize an effective response to an oil spill should prevention efforts fail.

oil-spill-clean-up-2Alex Walker, a representative of industry for the exercise, led the Oil Spill Response discussion. During the multiple presentations, agencies like a UK-based Oil Spill Service Center based, Navy Coordination and Guidance At Sea and the Maritime Liaison Office; leaders covered international policy, safety of life at sea, communication challenges between militaries, agencies and industry, and what mariners can do at each level of the problem to preserve life and minimize the effects that a damaged crude carrier would have on the environment and other shipping.

Walker went on to comment during an interview that any response effort is about the safety of people and the environment. “The Navy has always taken environmental concerns very seriously,” Walker said. “This forum gives us the opportunity to explore that aspect in more detail.”

Oil spills are complicated. Their behavior relies on  surface tension of the oil product, specific gravity of the product, the viscosity and multiple environmental factors (an overview of behavior and effects).  To make things harder, oil characteristics and environmental factors dictate what response options would be most effective in treating the crisis (a simple interactive guide). These responses take a great deal of cooperation and coordination and Oil Spill Response discussions like in IMCMEX 13 are crucial to an effective, international, military and industry combined response.

While safety of mariners is paramount, concern for how we are affecting the environment is ever-present.

More information about oil spill response is available via the U.S. EPA and NOAA  response pages, as well as International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation and many other pages.

-Fleet LT