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Exercise Cutlass Express 2021 (CE21) |27 July 2021

Exercise Cutlass Express 2021 (CE21)

Souvenir photo of delegates at the event (Photo: Louis Toussaint)

Annual multinational maritime exercise underway


The annual exercise designed to assess and improve combined maritime law enforcement capacity, promote national and regional security in East Africa, is officially underway, after being officially launched yesterday.

Baptised the Cutlass Express, the training is sponsored by US Africa Command and conducted by the US Naval Forces Africa.

Through Cutlass Express 2021 (CE21), the US Forces will work alongside the other participating nations to improve combined maritime law enforcement capacity, promote national and regional security in East Africa and increase interoperability between the US Africanand multinational partners.

The 2021 version of the training was officially launched yesterday by Rear Admiral Jeffrey Spivey who is the Marine Partnership Programme officer for the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa/Sixth Fleet during a ceremony at the Seychelles Defence Academy (SDA), Ile dui Port, in the presence of chief of defence forces, Colonel Michael Rosette, commander of the Seychelles Coast Guard (SCG) Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Attala, senior officers, exercise planners, facilitators and participants.

In his opening remarks, Rear Admiral Spivey noted that since its birth in 2011, the Cutlass Express has been built on a shared commitment and belief in the importance of maritime cooperation.

He explained that along its almost 17,000 nautical mile coastline, with its crucial sea ports, Africa depends on the ocean as a link to global trade and a vital source of economic development and livelihood.

Thus, the core aims of strengthening partnerships, increasing maritime domain awareness, and leveraging regional security cooperation at sea are of utmost importance.

Rear Admiral Spivey further added that Cutlass Expressendeavours to sharpen our skills to do just that so we can collectively make these waterways more secure ‒ secure from piracy, secure from environmental crimes like illegal fishing and marine pollution and secure from illicit trafficking of people, weapons, and narcotics.

“These and other maritime threats affect not only your nations but, in this interdependent world, they affect all of us. As such, it is increasingly important to improve interoperability across navies, regional coast guards and other agencies between our US, African and European partners,” added the rear admiral who also noted that the diversity of participants and agencies which constitute this year’s exercise is precisely the kind of collaboration that will strengthen western Indian Ocean maritime security.

Giving some details about the training, Rear Admiral Spivey explained that over the coming week, Cutlass Express will exercise the whole continuum of skills and actions needed to improve maritime security.

He said they will practice maritime domain awareness to recognise suspect vessels and share that information amongst themselves, while they also share techniques and practice maritime interdiction operations via at sea visit, board, search, and seizure exercises.

They will also seek to refine the employment of maritime rule of law which due its complex nature, a seamless transition between different agencies, organisations, and even nations, is essential.

“Without these, there can be no meaningful consequences for illicit actors,” added the rear admiral who also noted that when combined, these skills will also allow us to bolster the efforts to crack down on illegal fishing and trafficking through regional cooperation, thus expanding our ability to work within the protocols laid out in the Djibouti code of conduct.

To conclude, he noted that the presence of the participants at this year’s event demonstrates the commitment from so many leaders around the region to build long-term security and stability in the maritime domain and beyond.

Such commitment, he said, is inspiringand on behalf of Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF), he is proud to be working alongside so many professional and dedicated partners.

On behalf of the Seychelles government, Lieutenant-Colonel Attala said it is always a pleasure for the Seychelles People’s Defence Forces (SPDF) to host all its counterparts and to make available its military assets, facilities and personnel to support the Cutlass Express.

He added that since its initiation, the exercise has been the most successful and highly anticipated multilateral training of its kind to be conducted in the country and the region.

Lieutenant Colonel Attala also noted that since the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the way we operate, it has of course impacted the planning and execution of various trainings and exercises, including the Cutlass Express. Among the considerable setbacks encountered, he made reference to the reduction in the number of participating nations.

He added that Covid-19 is just another challenge and as military and law enforcement operatives they always adapt to situations and move on, ensuring that safety and security prevail.

“This version of Cutlass Express is seeing the active participation of a range of participants from navies, air forces, special forces and police forces with different experience and skill level, as well as civilian counterparts from the National Information-Sharing and Coordination Centre (NISCC) and the Regional Centre for Operation Coordination (RCOC),” said Lieutenant-Colonel Attala who added that this represents a rich and diverse audience.

The exercise objectives and training scenarios of the Cutlass Express 2021 will revolve around themes that are current and relate directly to all participating nations as they are the same challenges encountered in the respective operating areas on a daily basis.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and counter-narcotics operations are among the areas which will be covered during the training.

Furthermore, it will enable the participating nations to cooperate in information sharing, planning and operation.

The exercise begins with an in-port training period followed by at-sea scenarios and will conclude with a senior leadership symposium.

The underway portion of the exercise tests ship crews’ abilities to detect illicit activities, conduct maritime interdiction operations by boarding teams against simulated suspect vessels and practice follow-on evidence collection procedures.

The valuable operational experience gained during Cutlass Express contributes to Seychelles’ ability to suppress and counter illegal activities, including piracy, arms trafficking, human smuggling, drugs traffickingand illegal trade in wildlife.


Roland Duval


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