By Lt. Cmdr. Kent Laborde, Saharan Express Public Affairs
DAKAR, Senegal (NNS) -- Military and civilian leadership met for the second annual interagency meeting during Exercise Saharan Express 2014, March 11.
The objective of the meeting was to bring together the national agencies in Senegal responsible for maritime security in order to gain their expertise and discuss best practices on topics such as illegal fishing, drug trafficking and weapons smuggling.
The Saharan Express 2014 Exercise Director U.S. Navy Capt. John Tokarewich joined with the Chief of Senegalese Naval Staff Rear Adm. Cheikh Bara Cissokho in hosting the Senegal Maritime Police, Senegal National Policy, Dakar Port Authority, Senegal Maritime Affairs National Agency, Senegal Maritime Security and Safety Coordination Agency, the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission, the Maritime Traffic Information Sharing Center in Ghana, and the World Wildlife Fund at Senegalese Naval Headquarters in Dakar.
"Agencies need to share intelligence and work together," said Cissokho. "Bad actors at sea have knowledge and navigational skills. How can we confront these threats and save lives? Improving governance between agencies is just as important as physical confrontation at sea."
This is the second year that the event has been held in conjunction with Exercise Saharan Express, a multilateral naval exercise that brings together 13 maritime nations to improve communications between regional operations centers, increase theater maritime domain awareness and practice boarding vessels at sea.
"Providing maritime security is an enormous job that is only possible through the capabilities and teamwork that we are building among the many Navies participating in Saharan Express," said Tokarewich. "Further, we must also have your agencies as part of the team. It is critical for all of us to work hand-in-hand in order to counter the serious problems that all nations share, such as trafficking of people and illegal material, narcotics trade, and illegal fishing."
The exercise includes scenarios where naval ships simulate vessels at sea conducting either illegal fishing or illicit trafficking. The exercise helps to strengthen capabilities of the regional partners and create greater awareness of activities in adjacent waters so that they can maintain maritime security.
This has significant economic and security impacts at local, national and regional scales. Outreach to partner governmental and non-governmental organizations helps to strengthen the coordination between all players in the maritime domain.
Allassane Dieng represented the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission, and stressed the importance of preventing illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing for the stability of the regional economy.
"Fisheries employs around 600,000 people in Senegal, or about 17 percent of the population," said Dieng. "About 75 percent of our animal protein comes from fish, and yet IUU fishing represents about one third of the fish catch in Senegal."
U.S. and Senegalese organizers were happy to see results of the collaboration.
"This event underlines the importance of national cooperation between maritime agencies, which is an important goal for Saharan Express," said Kristy McLean, maritime outreach program manager for Naval Forces Africa and one of the organizers. "As in the United States, a whole-of-government approach is needed to ensure maritime security and protect marine resources."
The African contingency agreed that the synchronization of partner nations and the ability to work together will help strengthen maritime operations and efforts in the area.
"The discussion identified a number of areas of common interest between the agencies that will help us build better cooperation between the maritime agencies in Senegal," said Senegalese Navy Cmdr. Oumar Wade, another organizer.
Saharan Express is an annual international maritime security cooperation exercise designed to improve maritime safety and security in West Africa.