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Saturday, August 30 2014 @ 08:32 PM EDT

PANAMAX military exercise begins at Mayport

Panama NewsBy William Browning - Maybe it is attacked. Maybe it is damaged. Maybe mines appear and traffic is halted. In the event that any of those scenarios ever occur at the Panama Canal — the 51-mile waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans — militaries from across the world want to be ready. So on Monday at Mayport Naval Station, personnel from more than a dozen nations came together to begin working out a variety of responses.

The exercise, known as PANAMAX, will last 10 days. The purpose is to make sure the partner nations are better prepared to work together if the Panama government ever requests help in protecting commercial traffic through the canal and ensure its neutrality. The exercise’s opening ceremony took place Monday inside the Ocean Breeze Conference Center at Mayport. “It’s key for us to be able to train together, to practice, to build up trust so that we can work more efficiently together,” Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet, said after the ceremony. “We have 17 different nations ... so there are different cultures, both inside the military and between nations, that have to come together.”

This is PANAMAX’s ninth year. In 2003 three nations — the United States, Chile and Panama — took part in the first. This year there are 17 nations, including a handful from South and Central America, as well as France and Canada. Roughly 600 military personnel have traveled to Mayport for the exercise, including 170 from other nations. The growth, according to military personnel, stems from nations in the region recognizing piracy in other parts of the world and illegal drug operations increasing. Several hundred million tons of cargo pass through the canal each year, according to the Navy. “These interactions strengthen our bonds across the region and foster long-lasting friendships and an understanding among the partner nations, ultimately benefiting the security of the region,” Harris said.

PANAMAX is one of the largest multinational training exercise in the world and takes place at Mayport, as well as locations in Texas, Miami, Mississippi and the Caribbean Sea. The exercise, apart from the Navy, includes Marine Corps, Air Force and Army servicemen. (

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