While the focus of attention during Exercise KAKADU 2014 is on the interoperability of the coalition fleet at sea in the waters north of Australia, several teams of people have been working hard in Darwinto ensure smooth sailing.
One of these teams consists of 14 officers from the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) Maritime Trade Operations (MTO) branch, a specialised capability that provides the link to the commercial maritime industry that enables protection of seaborne trade.
MTO’s Deputy Director Operations, Lieutenant Commander Stephen Hurd, described the varied roles the MTO officers are playing during Exercise KAKADU.
“MTO has a group of liaison officers embedded at the Darwin Harbour Control Centre and working in the field visiting merchant ships on a daily basis, along with liaison officers embedded in each coalition ship participating in the exercises.
“These officers are supported by a small team within the Exercise Control headquarters, located at RAAF Darwin.
“This group provides vital liaison between all participants and the commercial maritime industry, ensuring that disruption to merchant shipping is minimised, and that the exercise can proceed without interference,” Lieutenant Commander Hurd said.
One of the key relationships maintained by the MTO team is with the Darwin Port Corporation, who coordinate shipping movements in and out of Darwin Harbour, and manage the berth and anchorage assignments for shipping, including Australian and international warships.
The Harbour Control Manager for the Darwin Port Corporation, Mr Daniel Christophersen, oversees the team of people who operate the Harbour Control centre.
"We deal with the Navy closely throughout the year, with several interactions daily, mostly dealing with the Armidale Class Patrol Boats that are based in Darwin.
"There are also regular visits by larger Australian and international warships, many of which use our wharf facilities.
"When an exercise like KAKAKDU is in full operation, the greater numbers of movements can impact merchant mariners, so the liaison service that the RAN MTO team provides are invaluable," Mr Christophersen said.
By virtue of their presence, the embedded MTO officers have been able to be proactive in deconflicting civil and military maritime activities, such as with the ARC Round the World Yacht Race.
"Our liaison officers in the Harbour Control office found out that the Darwin to Bali leg of the race was set to kick off when most of the fleet were underway in the sea phase of Exercise KAKADU.
"We were able to brief the race organisers, yacht masters and our Commanding Officers, and provide all of them with mutual awareness of each other’s activities.
"This is one example of what we refer to as 'White Shipping Deconfliction', which is where we keep the civilian seafarers safe, and ensure the impact on shipping and the exercise is minimised," Lieutenant Commander Hurd said.
Maritime Trade Operations is a Reserve only capability that provides liaison between the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Maritime and Shipping Industry in order to facilitate the protection of maritime trade and ensure better mutual understanding.
Exercise KAKADU 2014 is Australia's largest warfare exercise of 2014, with ships, aircraft, personnel and observers from 15 countries honing high-end warfighting capabilities.