Civilian crews on merchant vessels and cruise ships worked with navies from more than 30 nations to ensure the waterways of the Middle East remain open and secure for commercial shipping.
More than 30 commercial ships, together with partner nation navies, participated in the International Mine Countermeasure Exercise (IMCMEX), which focuses on maritime security from the port of origin to the port of arrival and includes scenarios that range from mine countermeasures, infrastructure protection and maritime security operations in support of civilian shipping.
“We have three major drivers: one, we want to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our mariners; two, protection of the environmental; and three, keeping the trade routes flowing,” said Alex Walker, former vice president of Chevron Shipping Company.
IMCMEX, which continues through April 26, is organized and led by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, which leads U.S. Navy and afloat Marine Corps forces across the more than 2.5 million square miles of ocean in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
Walker has participated in every IMCMEX since 2010, when the exercise started. Industry participation has also increased from four ships to over 30.
“There are over 12 major shipping companies, representing various aspects of the shipping business, including energy, containers and passenger ships,” said Walker.
Ninety percent of everything the world uses travels by sea. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 35 percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments pass through the Strait of Hormuz.
“This area continues to be perhaps the most sensitive choke point in regards to energy supply — regardless of changes of to the supply chains around the world, it will continue to be imperative to keep the trade routs open,” said Walker. “The joint goal of the industry and the Navy is to keep trade routes open and protect the mariners.”
As part of the exercise, industry ships participated in escort operations, onboard search and seizure drills, ship visits, and notional threat assessments and mitigation efforts. Royal Navy Destroyer HMS Defender escorted RMS Queen Mary 2 and RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 in the Arabian Gulf, and the Maersk Atlanta practiced counter-piracy in the Red Sea with U.S. and partner nation maritime security forces.
“I think the training opportunity that this gives the people on the ships to interact with naval ships is important,” said Walker. “It gives ships’ crews confidence and their families affirmation that someone is looking after them.”
Image: US Navy