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NEWS | March 7, 2024

Maritime Collaboration: RCOC’s support to Cutlass Express 2024

By Yvonne Levardi, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs

Countering illicit trafficking, combating piracy, fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, counter-narcotics – these are some of the focus areas of this year’s Cutlass Express exercise, held Feb. 25-March 8 throughout East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean.


In Seychelles, the heart of the exercise takes place in the Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC) in Victoria, on Mahé Island. The RCOC, along with the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Center (RMIFC) in Madagascar, forms part of a Regional Maritime Security Architecture for the Western Indian Ocean under the EU-funded Maritime Security in Eastern & Southern Africa & Indian Ocean (MASE) program, led by the Indian Ocean Commission.


“There’s an old quote in Africa: If you want to go fast you go alone; if you want to go far, you go together,” said CAPT. Sam Gontier, the RCOC’s Regional Director.


That idea is the foundation for the program, Gontier said. The RCOC and RMIFC were established in 2018 following the signing of two regional agreements (MASE agreements) focused on information exchange and sharing and joint operations at sea. Seven states signed the MASE agreements - Comoros, Djibouti, France (Reunion Island), Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles. Each signatory country has an international liaison officer (ILO) in each regional center and links with their respective national center. Working closely with its sister center, the RCOC coordinates regional operations to combat illegal maritime activities with the support of assets contributed by regional signatories to the mechanism. The EU-MASE program also supports the deployment of assets for regional maritime operations. Integral to this Maritime Security Architecture is the RMIFC based in Madagascar.


The RMIFC focuses on deepening maritime awareness and facilitating the exchange and sharing of maritime information with national centers and international Information fusion centers, while the RCOC uses the information provided by the Fusion Center to initiate and coordinate operations at sea.


Integral to this regional coordination is the RMIFC in Madagascar. The RMIFC helps deepen maritime awareness and facilitate the exchange and sharing of maritime information, while the RCOC uses the information provided by the Fusion Center to help coordinate operations at sea.


“The RMIFC’s primary role is to analyze and detect vessels of interest and send that information to RCOC so we can take actions against them,” Gontier said. “For example, if there is a vessel that we suspect or know is carrying narcotics coming this way, and the closest resources are from Seychelles and Mauritius, we'll ask them for their support and coordinate the operations from here.”


If the RMIFC finds information that the RCOC needs to take action on, they send that info to the RCOC. The RCOC will look at the situation and determine the actions that need to be taken, what assets are available in the area and what assets will best support that operation. The RCOC sends a support request to the countries that own the assets, and the countries reply with their ability to support. The RCOC then coordinates operations from its location in the Seychelles. At the conclusion of the operation, the country deploying the asset invoices the RCOC for its asset's use in the operation and RCOC authorizes payment as per the funding mechanism set aside to support these operations.


The RCOC Director worked with Cutlass Express planners to integrate the RCOC into Cutlass Express 2023, the first time the RCOC was integrated in this fashion. The RCOC, however, had been participating in the exercise since its establishment, Gontier said, but the planners had been creating an artificial maritime operations center to send exercise injects to participating countries.


“The existing regional Architecture already has the task of carrying out this type of mission, so why not use it for the exercise to train countries in the right way,” Gontier said. “Through Cutlass, we have the medium to do a major exercise with all of the countries in the region, and at the same time we try to improve knowledge on the MASE Architecture and foster ownership.”


Two countries that have expressed an interest in signing the MASE agreements – Tanzania and Mozambique – are also participants in Cutlass Express. Regional participation like this continues to strengthen bonds and deepen interoperability, and paves the way for enhanced coordination as well.


As planners throughout the region and globally continue to leverage the capabilities of the RCOC for exercises and real-world operations, Gontier and others involved in this Architecture see the continued growth potential of the RCOC and what it means for maritime security and stability throughout East Africa.


“The center is getting recognized by the international community,” Gontier said. “And as the RCOC is also now taking on the role of the Regional Disaster Response Coordination Center, it’s essential for partner nations to test and improve their interoperability and response capabilities.”


The U.S. shares a common interest with African partner nations in ensuring security, safety, and freedom of navigation on the waters surrounding the continent, because these waters are critical for Africa’s prosperity and access to global markets.


For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with 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 USEUCOM and USAFRICOM 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.


For more information on Cutlass Express, visit,, &