1st June 2017

Are commercial routes in the South China Sea at risk and how can we “arm” our merchant navy in consequence?
Reserve personnel has taken part to a NATO maritime traffic cooperation exercise based on a realistic scenario of increasing tension in the South China Sea, the main ingredients being regional frictions, hybrid war schemes as well as exclusive rights claims on certain sea areas.
For the 38th time, from 29th of May until 22d of June in Ostend, at the Belgian-Dutch mine warfare school (EGUERMIN), the exercise SNOWMASTER took place, one of the most important maritime traffic cooperation exercise.
During a full week, specialists from various NATO countries have endeavoured to react appropriately to various incidents based on a realistic scenario.

The exercise needs to be put in perspective of two NATO concepts, “Naval Co-operation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS)” and “Allied Worldwide Navigational Information System (AWNIS)”, aiming to ensure continuous flow of goods and services on the one hand and to minimise the impact of maritime traffic on military operations on the other hand. In this context, information exchange will enable the merchant navy to get advice through notice to seafarers and in some cases will also be accompanied.

NCAGS and AWNIS units are mainly manned by reserve personnel putting their civilian competences at the service of an efficient and effective collaboration with the merchant navy world.
EGUERMIN being a NATO recognized competence centre and having its own simulation infrastructure, it constitutes an outstanding environment for the good execution of such an exercise. In 2017 it hosted participants from Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Poland; a real international gathering.
After focusing more than 10 years on piracy threats, it has since 2016 shifted to the geopolitical reality of the South China Sea.
Increased tension in the region due to discordant claims on sea areas and the sea floor and thus on natural resources, is an ideal scenario to train for the establishment of a free and secure merchant navigation, navigation seaways in this part of the world being particularly vital to our economy.