Participants of exercise Bell Buoy 2018 confront transnational maritime threats.
The navies of 12 countries gathered in Valparaíso, Chile, in mid-October to carry out a multinational exercise to protect international maritime trade. The Bell Buoy 2018 exercise took place at the Chilean Navy’s Maritime Traffic Naval Control Center (CENCONATRAM, in Spanish).
The objective of the annual exercise is to reinforce the capabilities of the navies of the Pacific and Indian Ocean Shipping Working Group, with a focus on safeguarding maritime trade and its routes. The exercise also seeks to check the procedures of the Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NCAGS serves as a reference in military operations to support merchant shipping.
The Chilean Navy organized Bell Buoy 2018 with the participation of Australia, Brazil, France, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The navies of Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru took part as observers.
“[Bell Buoy 2018] is an opportunity for the Chilean Navy to fulfill its mission to protect maritime trade and communication routes,” said Chilean Navy Captain José Luis Sepúlveda, commander of CENCONATRAM. “[It’s an opportunity to] keep Chile’s international trade activities safe, removing mutual interferences.”
For five days, participants faced fictitious scenarios that required cooperation at an international level, intelligence exchange, and planning to solve the crises. In addition, the scenarios prompted officers to plan for emergency operations and issue warnings and orders to merchant vessels.
Terrorism, narcotrafficking, piracy, port infrastructure sabotage, and migratory crises are some of the threats participants faced in the scenarios set in the Chilean Pacific. As part of the exercise, the officers divided their tasks among six Chilean naval zones: Iquique, Valparaíso, Talcahuano, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, and Easter Island.
“Nowadays, every international exercise seeks to protect maritime traffic from threats. To do so, we take advantage of these opportunities to see the response capability and interoperability of foreign officers working in Chile, because all countries operate differently and need to adapt,” Chilean Navy Lieutenant Commander Víctor Mundaca Andaur, commander of CENCONATRAM’s Operations division, told Diálogo. “For example, an officer from New Zealand assigned to Easter Island or an Australian officer assigned to Talcahuano must adapt to the different circumstances.”
Apart from the threats criminal groups or movements of people generated, the scenarios of Bell Buoy 2018 took into account Chile’s peculiar geography and weather conditions, which were new aspects for the exercise, Lt. Cdr. Mundaca said. Participants confronted the rough seas of the Drake Passage at the southernmost tip of South America, and resolved several scenarios in a fictitious island across from the Strait of Magellan, on open seas.
“[In Chile] we have an area of responsibility of maritime confluence, specifically the area of the Drake Passage and the Strait of Magellan,” said Lt. Cdr. Mundaca. “Our duty as the Navy is to rescue those ships. In the exercise, we had to guarantee that the route wouldn’t stop and guarantee its use.”
A successful exercise
“This opportunity to host Bell Buoy 2018 is momentous for the Chilean Navy,” said Chilean Navy Commander Eduardo Hoffmann, who took on the role of commander of NCAGS for the exercise. “This is an activity that involves NATO member states, supporting the work and experience of NCAGS Chile as a valid interlocutor to protect and advise merchant shipping, providing security for trade and freedom of navigation.”
For the Chilean Navy, the exercise was a success. The different scenarios enabled the application of procedures derived from NCAGS and strengthened bonds of friendship and trust between participating nations. The simulated exercise concluded with an NCAGS course that allowed officers to review the information used, as well as other materials useful for the future.
“In short, everything we did was an interesting professional challenge for our country. Our capabilities were put to the test, integrating at an excellent level Chilean and foreign personnel of different participating nations,” Lt. Cdr. Mundaca concluded. “It shows that the Chilean Navy, on its bicentennial, carries out its operations according to NATO standards.”
Conducted since the 1980s, Bell Buoy was born of agreements between the navies of Australia and the United States. Australia will host Bell Buoy 2019, while South Korea will host the event in 2020.