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NEWS | May 25, 2022

Military and civilians collaborate in a Maritime Legal Information Exchange during exercise Phoenix Express 2022

By Sandra Niedzwiecki

Maritime legal subject matter experts from the United States, partner, and allied nations participating in the 17th iteration of exercise Phoenix Express 2022 (PE 22) held a series of maritime legal information exchanges to share best practices for maritime interdiction operations in Tunis and Bizerte, Tunisia, May 25-29, 2022.

The inaugural legal program, facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) promotes military-civilian cooperation along the “collection to courtroom continuum.”

“It is critical that our African partners use a coordinated whole of government approach to interdiction to disrupt criminal and terrorist organizations and ensure prosecution to the fullest extent of international and national laws,” said Cmdr. Jason Looper, NAVEUR-NAVAF Naval Reserve N5 North Africa Training and Operations Director. “Only through effective coordination between the navies, coast guards, and domestic prosecuting authorities can we ensure sustained maritime security.”

AFRICOM hosted the “Legal Finish Team,” a group composed of a district attorney and an assistant attorney general from Tunisia, two judges from Morocco, and one law enforcement officer from each country. The Legal Finish Team briefed members of participating navies and coast guards on recent maritime crime trends, contributed legal perspectives during a table top exercise, and shared best practices for preserving the prosecution potential of nefarious actors through increased military and civilian coordination leading up to, during, and following maritime interdiction operations.

Navy and Coast Guard military members participating in exercise PE 22, in turn, impressed upon the judges and prosecutors the dangers associated with inspecting and interdicting ships at sea, and how the dynamic nature of those operations affects evidence collection. The legal information exchange builds the foundation necessary to ensure future interdictions of criminal and terrorist organizations, to ensure evidence collection practices are recognized in international maritime courts for follow-on prosecution.

PE22, sponsored by AFRICOM and facilitated by NAVEUR-NAVAF, is designed to improve regional cooperation and increase maritime domain awareness, information sharing practices, and operational capabilities in order to enhance efforts to promote safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea and territorial waters of participating North African nations.

PE22 participants include Algeria, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and the United States. Phoenix Express is one of three NAVEUR-NAVAF-facilitated regional exercises as part of a comprehensive strategy to provide collaborative opportunities amongst African forces and international partners that addresses maritime security concerns.

For over 80 years, NAVEUR-NAVAF has forged strategic relationships with our allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability. Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and AFRICOM areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.