Cutlass Express 21 The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) maritime security architecture |01 September 2021
As the cornerstone of the maritime security architecture for the Western Indian Ocean, the Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC) based in Seychelles and the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre (RMIFC) based in Madagascar, as well as the national centres of the 7 signatory states – Comoros, Djibouti, Kenya, France/Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles – are now able to exchange and share maritime information and carry out regional coordinated missions of interest thanks to the Maritime Security (MASE) agreements.
Regional cooperation and coordination are ensured by the international liaison officers (ILOs), who are deputed by their respective signatory states and posted at the two regional centres. The ILOs act as facilitators and are in permanent contact with their counterparts in the national centres. Through their coordinated effort, the ILOs enable their countries to play a leading role in the fight against transnational crimes and foreseeable threats at sea within the region of interest.
The WIO maritime security architecture is implemented by the Indian Ocean Commission through the Regional Maritime Security Programme (MASE) funded by the European Union and also Seychelles and Madagascar being the host countries of the centres.
Exercise Cutlass Express (CE)
Established in 2011, the Cutlass Express (CE) exercise is an annual event conducted by the US Naval Forces Europe/Africa/ Sixth Fleet and sponsored by the U.S Africa Command (Africom). CE is designed to assess and improve combined maritime law enforcement capacity, regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness and information sharing between maritime operation centres. The CE exercise also aims to promote national and regional security in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean to address effectively maritime crimes and threats.
Leveraging regional cooperation and strengthening coordination in joint actions at sea by regional actors are among the main objectives of Cutlass Express 21 (CE21), which took place from July 26 to August 6, 2021. This multinational exercise brought together navies, air forces and law enforcement agencies as well as civilian authorities from 15 nations including Comoros, Djibouti, Georgia, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Bahrain, Madagascar, Mauritius, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and the United States. Three regional centres namely RMIFC, RCOC and IFC-IOR (India) was part of the CE21 exercise as well as the following organisations: UNODC, INTERPOL, EUCAP, CRIMARIO and IMO.
RCOC: A centre of excellence in regional cooperation
At its 3rd participation in this annual event together with other allies, the RCOC was selected to host the Exercise Coordinator Group (ECG) for the 2021 edition. In this context, a USAfricom team was deployed to assist and work in collaboration with the RCOC to conduct and coordinate the joint coordinated mission at sea through an efficient regional planning process. Three countries namely Djibouti, Kenya and Seychelles were designated as Operational Areas (OPSAREA), whereby each one executed different foreseeable maritime safety and security threats ranging from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, anti-narcotics operations, maritime pollution (Marpol), search and rescue (SAR) and piracy. The RCOC was tasked to respond to these threats through a regional coordinated mission to mitigate these threats in collaboration with the respective surface and air assets available for the exercise in collaboration with the national Maritime Operation Centres (MOC).
From capacity building to improved regional collaboration
Divided into several phases, the CE 21 kicked off with an in-port training session on July 26 in the Seychelles. This was followed by an at-sea training scenario to improve interoperability between US, African ad multi-national partners. The exercise was supposed to end with the Senior Leadership Symposium in Kenya, however, due to some restrictions related to Covid, the event was postponed.
The Command Post Exercise (CPX) coupled with Field Training Exercise (FTX) enabled the US to share their experience, techniques and practice on maritime interdiction operations through Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercises with regional partners. It was also an opportunity to demonstrate common commitment by all stakeholders to build long-term security and safety within the maritime domain.
The active participation of the RCOC and the RMIFC in the exercise contributed to the build-up of the two regional centres and highlights the major role that the maritime security architecture can play in the region together with other keystakeholders. This multinational exercise has indeed enabled the assessment of the MASE architecture with external partners and implement the whole continuum of skills and actions need to enhance maritime security at the expectation of the region and beyond.