On March 29, the 15th edition of the training event PHOENIX EXPRESS officially began in Casablanca, Morocco. Following a formal opening ceremony ships and personnel from Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, and other participating nations departed for an operating area in the western Mediterranean Sea, in and around the territorial waters of various North African countries.
For the next week, they worked cooperatively to enhance their responses to trafficking, irregular migration, the transport of illegal goods, and other threats to regional stability.
Joining them for the first time for this year’s operations: warships of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
Well into their Operation PROJECTION deployment in Africa, Her Majesty’s Canadian ships Kingston and Shawinigan joined a team of liaison officers to form Canada’s contribution to this important multinational initiative.
PHOENIX EXPRESS requires ships to conduct frequent maritime interdiction and boarding operations, where participating navies stop suspicious vessels and send teams to verify if criminal activity is occurring onboard. In order to maximize training value for all participants, Kingston and Shawinigan acted as dedicated target vessels, freeing up local ships to focus on honing their skills. The RCN contribution was greatly appreciated.
“We’re very happy to see Canadian ships here for the first time,” said Royal Moroccan Navy Captain Chaouni while addressing participants during a pre-sail conference. “I will keep saying it until the end of the [training engagement].”
The task of organizing and executing complex scenarios to challenge the crews and boarding teams from partner nations was not a simple one. In Kingston, that responsibility fell to Leading Seaman Mark Woudstra, one of the ship’s naval combat information operators. In this role, he was responsible for running two scenarios per day, and organizing the actors, props, and documents required by each.
“The best part of Op PROJECTION is working with other countries, so I was very happy to be so involved,” he recalled after the event.
“We put a lot of work into the scenarios, and even though I sometimes secretly hope they don’t find our fake illicit goods, I’m happy when they do. It’s obvious from the looks on the boarding teams’ faces after the training that our work helped them improve, and it feels good to be a part of that.”
After a demanding week at sea, PHOENIX EXPRESS 2019 ended on a high note with groups of ships sailing together through the Straits of Gibraltar and back to Casablanca. A few days later at a reception hosted by Kingston, sailors from attending nations took advantage of the cordial atmosphere to compare notes and exchange lessons learned during the engagement. For Shawinigan’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Teri Share, it was an occasion to take stock of the two ships’ many accomplishments since arriving in African waters.
“PHOENIX EXPRESS was our second major multinational training engagement in the span of a few weeks,” she explained, referencing OBANGAME EXPRESS, which the ships had recently participated in.
“As we begin our transit back to Halifax, I think we can all be proud of the contribution we’ve made to maritime security in both Western and Northern Africa, and of the relationships we’ve fostered in the region.”
Kingston and Shawinigan are now enroute back to home port, where they will officially and successfully conclude Operation PROJECTION West Africa 2019.