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U.S., Djibouti, Japan Partner in Trilateral Engagement to Combat Illegal Shipping

27 February 2023

From Lt.j.g. Victoria Piccoli, Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - Members of the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 8, the Djiboutian Navy, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force participated in a trilateral training engagement aboard the Japanese destroyer JS Suzutsuki based in the Port of Djibouti, Feb. 25.

The joint exercise focused on visit, board, search, and seizure, or VBSS, tactics that concentrated on maritime boarding techniques to combat terrorism, piracy, and smuggling.

“VBSS operations are a core function of the Forces Armées Djiboutiennes Navy’s maritime strategy to combat illegal drug smuggling, illegal fishing, and human trafficking off their coast,” said Lt. Cmdr. Luis Aybar, deputy chief, Office of Security Cooperation, U.S. Embassy Djibouti. “This engagement will show each team how to come on board and successfully execute the VBSS mission.”

Djibouti is located in the Horn of Africa, where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden at the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which serves as a vital economic waterway and maritime trade route.

Due to Djibouti’s strategic location on this international shipping route, there is a high potential for smuggling and illegal activity, therefore VBSS proficiency is extremely important to stop these activities, said Aybar.

For the exercise, the Japanese Navy designed a scenario to respond to an alert of illegal cargo shipping and potential smuggling on a vessel that required two teams of 12 using VBSS best practices.

As the two teams approached the Japanese destroyer, they boarded using a specialized hook ladder, then executed separate search and seizure operations of both the bridge and engine room.

MSRON 8, assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, provides CLDJ’s 31 tenant commands and visiting naval vessels protection through 24/7 port security and escorting operations.

“We have been doing VBSS training and team movement on land to prepare for this engagement,” said Sitarz. “We are Navy Reservists deployed to Camp Lemonnier, and on the civilian side, we are all first responders by trade. We have the training, but most of us out here are learning and physically boarding a ship like this for the first time.”

The trilateral training gave all participants the opportunity to showcase their strengths and work together as a team to enhance the collective capabilities of the group.

“The boarding team training is very important… for Djiboutian Navy, this is a benefit,” said Lieutenant Said Houssien, Djiboutian Navy. “U.S. and Djibouti performing VBSS together is important for my guys to prepare and build up for Cutlass Express.”

Cutlass Express 2023 is an annual maritime exercise conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa and sponsored by U.S. Africa Command. CE23 is designed to assess and improve combined maritime law enforcement techniques, promote safety and security in the Western Indian Ocean, and increase interoperability between participating nations.

Djibouti will be one of the host nations for CE23, which will occur from March 5-17.

Some of the same MSRON 8 sailors who participated in this trilateral exercise will return to partner with Djiboutian Navy and Coast Guard members during CE23 further extending the bond developed during this exercise, said Sitarz.

“This is great engagement in advance of Cutlass Express 2023 to develop unit cohesion and to get the repetitions in,” said Aybar. “This is the first trilateral exercise for the U.S., Djiboutians, and Japanese that we have put together, and this opens the door for more frequent subsequent engagements.”

Camp Lemonnier serves as an expeditionary base for U.S. military forces providing support to ships, aircraft and personnel that ensure security throughout Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia. The base enables maritime and combat operations in the Horn of Africa while fostering positive U.S.-Africa relations.


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