More than 60 Maritime Trade Operations (MTO) Officers from ten navies have wrapped up one of their largest annual Bell Buoy exercises last week with a simulations of conflict between two countries in the Tasman Sea, piracy and the closure of Port Botany due to an underwater improvised explosive device.
MTO officers are the link between naval operations and the commercial shipping industry, and in times of crisis, war, piracy or other armed conflict, MTOs work with industry to ensure the safety of sea farers and the continuation of trade that is so important to maritime economies like Australia.
In Exercise BELL BUOY 19, teams of MTO Officers drawn from the navies of Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, Fiji and France were deployed to the ports in Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Auckland and Tauranga (NZ).
The two week exercise included joint ship visits with Australian Border Force officers in Port Botany, opportunities to work with clearance divers to reopen a mined port and an industry engagement day.
Exercise Director, Commander David Neumann said that the industry day threw up some reassuring views that were widely shared in the room.
“I think some people would be forgiven for thinking that the primary concern of industry is for their cargo to be delivered and that was obviously a priority from the discussions we had,” Commander Neumann said.
“What was very clear however, was that the safety of civilian mariners was the top priority of industry, closely followed by the protection of the environment.
“The space along any country’s coast can get pretty crowded in terms of who manages or responds to issues and incidents.
“In Australia it includes Navy, Border Force, local police, state agencies, port authorities, volunteer responders and any number of commercial interests. Getting many of them in the same room helped all of us to better understand our challenges and priorities as well as shape future MTO exercises.
“The world’s oceans are only going to get more crowded as population grows and with that growth will come the need to make sure that maritime trade can continue in times of crisis, conflict or heightened risk. This is why the MTO capability is so important to maritime nations like ours.
“I am confident that this Exercise BELL BUOY, one of the largest in many years, has resulted in a significant improvement in our MTO capability and capacity.”