By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Barrie Barber, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command Public Affairs
PANAMA CITY, Panama (NNS) -- Nineteen nations have combined military and civil forces in Fuerzas Alidas PANAMAX 2007, a U.S. Southern Command joint and multinational exercise Aug. 29-Sept. 7, to ensure the continued security of the Panama Canal.
The U.S. Navy and participating nations have deployed 30 vessels, a dozen aircraft and more than 7,000 personnel in cooperation with Panama, which maintains the historic canal as a neutral waterway that is crucial to global maritime commerce and peace and prosperity in the region.
“This year’s PANAMAX is a truly amazing exercise,” said Brig. Gen. Manuel Ortiz, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army South who spoke at an opening ceremony Aug. 29. “This is the largest exercise in the hemisphere."
Vice Adm. Marty Chanik, Commander, 2nd Fleet, will lead the Multinational Force-South forces, which promotes partnerships throughout the Americas, during PANAMAX.
Panamanian officials said the security of the canal remains more important than ever as the growth of world trade coincides with an expansion of the waterway in the years ahead. Thousands of ships haul more than 200 million tons of cargo through the canal every year.
“This convergence of interests demands special security services,” said Olga Golcher, Panamanian minister of government and justice. “Panama, with the same seriousness it has shown the last 100 years, will face these challenges.”
PANAMAX sea, air and land forces will promote interoperability to counter threats to the waterway through maritime interdiction operations, mine countermeasures and visit, board, search and seizure procedures. Simultaneously, land-based training at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, among other missions.
“The time for planning is done,” said Ortiz, as he spoke amongst the flags of the nations in PANAMAX. “Now we execute.”
The U.S. Navy has sent USS Wasp (LHD 1) to lead the naval armada, along with USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), USS Mitscher (DDG 57), and USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58). The USCGC Thetis (WMEC 910) will join the maritime force along with ships from the navies of participating nations.
The participating nations are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Panama, Peru, the United States and Uruguay.
Three other nations will act as observers: El Salvador, Mexico and Paraguay.