Navies and coast guards from the United States and eight Asian countries, including Singapore, are taking part in a two-week exercise to strengthen cooperation and training in tackling maritime security challenges, such as piracy, smuggling and illegal fishing.
The annual South-east Asia Cooperation and Training (Seacat) exercise, led by the United States Navy, will also involve information sharing with the Maritime Operation Centre in Phuket, Thailand, for the first time.
Rear-Admiral Joey Tynch, US Navy commander of the Singapore-based Logistics Group Western Pacific, said of the exercise: "I can't think of a better example of these countries working together for a common purpose, than what we see today at Seacat."
He was speaking to local and international media at the RSS Singapura - Changi Naval Base, where part of the exercise is being coordinated from.
Rear-Adm Tynch emphasised the importance of sharing and fusing information from different countries, saying it "leads straight to maritime domain awareness, and... is the bedrock for rules-based order in the region".
The exercise this year, consisting of workshops and boarding operations at sea, involves the United States, Singapore, Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Now in its 17th year, it began on Monday and will end next Friday.
I can't think of a better example of these countries working together for a common purpose, than what we see today at Seacat.
REAR-ADMIRAL JOEY TYNCH, US Navy commander of the Singapore-based Logistics Group Western Pacific. He emphasised the importance of sharing and fusing information from different countries, saying it "leads straight to maritime domain awareness and, in my opinion, is the bedrock for rules-based order in the region". The exercise this year consists of workshops and boarding operations at sea.
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the US State Department Andrea L. Thompson said yesterday that the US continues to actively engage in the Indo-Pacific region.
She gave the examples of President Donald Trump's visits to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines last year, as well as to Singapore earlier this year for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Ms Thompson was also in Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia earlier this month.
She said the trip was "not only to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, (but) really also to work together more effectively to tackle global security challenges".
The sea phase of the exercise, which starts next week, will include 15 boarding operations by multiple nations onto three vessels.
The segment will be held in the South China Sea, and in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore.
It will be coordinated from the Multinational Operations and Exercises Centre at RSS Singapura - Changi Naval Base.
Liaison officers from different countries will use a newly-enhanced information sharing portal at the Republic of Singapore Navy's Information Fusion Centre.
The portal, located at the base, can compile real-time updates on the regional maritime picture and identify vessels suspected of conducting illegal activities.
Earlier this week, the participants attended a week-long workshop in Manila, conducted by the US Coast Guard, which covers operations such as boarding, search and seizure.
Rear-Adm Tynch said the increasing complexity of the exercise reflects the stronger relationships between the countries that have grown over the years.
He said: "When Seacat began (in 2002), it was focused on counter-terrorism, but over the years it has evolved... and right now, we've broadened the scope into cooperation and training as the main objectives."