Fifteen ships and 1,500 personnel from 16 Asia
-Pacific countries took part in exercises off Singapore on Tuesday with the aim of forging stronger ties to protect the region's vital sea lanes.
The first Western Pacific Mine Countermeasure and Diving Exercises will continue until June 22 in the Strait of Singapore
and the South China
"The Malacca Strait, Singapore Strait
and South China Sea together
form one of the busiest shipping lanes in the region," Singapore's Defense Minister said.
"According to the UN, more than half of the world's shipping tonnage transits through these shipping lanes each year and this will continue to grow by five percent annually over the next 10 years."
The defense minister said the drills would promote greater dialogue among the participating countries - Australia, Canada, China
, France, India
, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
The 11-day event is the first time Singapore's navy has held a multilateral exercise on such a large scale. It is also the first time Western Pacific Naval Symposium countries have taken part in a combined exercise.