The United States and six other nations kicked off a five-day naval exercise Monday aimed at combating piracy and other crimes in Southeast Asia’s heavily trafficked waters.
The Singapore-based Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training Exercise, or SEACAT, comes as piracy appears to be increasing in the South China Sea, where trillions of dollars in global trade transit annually.
The exercise includes more than 100 U.S. sailors and personnel from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, with Bangladesh navy officials observing.
Participating officers will receive simulated reports of suspicious activity in the Straits of Singapore and Malacca, the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea during the exercise, officials from the U.S. 7th Fleet’s Task Force 73 said Monday.
After coordinating on intelligence gathering, the officers will develop plans and implement them during a concurrent field exercise, which will include a multinational force of ships and aircraft.
The joint high-speed vessel USNS Millinocket, which was included last month as part of the Navy’s new expeditionary fast transport class of ships, is participating in SEACAT for the first time, Navy officials said.
Also participating are officials from Task Force 73 and Destroyer Squadron 7, the dry cargo ship USNS Amelia Earhart, the rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard, a P-8A Poseidon and a P-3C Orion patrol aircraft.
SEACAT began as an anti-terrorism exercise in 2002 but has since expanded to include piracy, smuggling and other illicit activity.
A small coastal tanker is hijacked in Southeast Asia every two weeks on average, according to an April report by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau. The region accounted for 55 percent of the world’s 54 piracy and armed-robbery incidents during the first quarter of 2015, the IMB said.
IMB figures also show 100 global piracy incidents reported since May 28, along with an increase in hostage taking over last year.