The annual Saharan Express maritime exercise, led by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF), began on March 6th with an opening ceremony in Dakar, Senegal. This year’s exercise will take place in two areas near the coasts of Cabo Verde and Senegal. There exercise will consist of a port preparatory phase and then ships will go to sea to test various maritime security skills. This year, 11 ships from Cape Verde, France, Liberia, Morocco, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The majority of these ships will operate from the Port of Dakar for the exercise.
Saharan Express 2014 will test maritime security skills such as: VBSS (visist, board, search and seizure), medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers (MOCs). The exercise is designed to help regional navies deal with real world security concerns like piracy, illicit trafficking operations, and illegal fishing.
Saharan Express, which began in 2011, is currently one of four so-called “Express series” exercise in Africa run annually by NAVFORAF. These exercise focus on maritime security issues around the continent and look to build on other bilateral security cooperation events between the US and African nations. Most notably, the Express series exercises are intended to support existing US Navy security cooperation efforts as part of the Africa Partnership Station program.
The US also continually assists with training personnel for the operation of regional MOCs, and otherwise improving their capabilities. For instance, NAVFORAF hosted a workshop on the operation of regional MOCs in Cameroon for members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) last year. In 2013, the US also supplied Tanzania with a new VHF communication system, specifically for the country’s People’s Defense Force Naval Command and Maritime Police Force.