CHANIA, Crete – Greece continued to host partner navies this week following last week’s Enterprise Carrier Strike Group visit to Piraeus with the exercise Phoenix Express 2012 (PE12) final planning conference, Apr. 3-5.
Military and civilian maritime professionals from North Africa, North America and Southern Europe gathered at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operation Training Center (NMIOTC) in Souda Bay to finalize their training agenda for exercise PE12.
“This multinational exercise is considered to be a capstone event for the [NMIOTC] training center,” said Commodore Adrianos Poulos, commanding officer of NMIOTC. “This constitutes a unique opportunity for professional development and for improving regional cooperation.”
Goals to be accomplished during the execution phase of PE12 include sharpening individual skills ranging from shipboard fast-rope insertions and combat casualty care, to complex communications and maritime interdiction operation (MIO) scenarios at sea. While the shore based training is scheduled to be conducted in Greece later this spring, the Combined Maritime Operations Center (CMOC) overseeing the underway scenario will be hosted in North Africa.
The PE12 final planning conference in Chania on the southern island of Crete follows recent port visits on the mainland in Piraeus, Greece near Athens. Last week the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69) made a three-day port visit culminating with Enterprise hosting a reception for 900 Greek officials and the U.S. Ambassador to Greece Mar. 28.
“To visit this legendary ship has its symbolism,” said Hellenic Minister of Defense Dimitris Avramopoulos. “It comes at a very difficult moment for our country. So the message the United States has sent to us is solidarity and friendship.”
Both Enterprise and Vicksburg are deployed as part of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group and are currently supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.
Exercises like PE12 and port visits to countries such as Greece are critical in building maritime relationships. Successes from maintaining open communications in the Mediterranean Sea are easily found.
In January, a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion operating from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, and the civilian merchant vessel, M/V Sunfish, responded to a request for assistance from Malta’s Rescue Coordination Center to search for a reported vessel in distress. The P-3 Orion aircrew worked with the M/V Sunfish below and helped render assistance to 68 men, women and children of Somali origin found adrift 80 miles southwest of Malta, Jan. 15. All 68 passengers safely boarded the M/V Sunfish and were later transferred ashore.
Just days later, Sailors and Marines aboard USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) provided assistance to ten Moroccan mariners after their vessel had capsized three-days earlier in the western Mediterranean Sea, Jan. 24. The Mesa Verde team brought the mariners aboard and provided medical treatment for dehydration and hypothermia before transferring the mariners to the Spanish coast guard.
Exercise Phoenix Express, scheduled to enter its seventh year, is a continuation of Mediterranean navies and maritime agencies working to build maritime security in order to face common challenges.