- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) - Senior military representatives from more than 100 countries have gathered in Rhode Island to talk about ways to address shared challenges and threats.

The U.S. chief of naval operations is hosting the 22nd International Seapower Symposium from Wednesday through Friday at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport. About 500 people from 106 countries are attending.

The group includes leaders from more than half the navies in the world, according to the college.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson welcomed the group Wednesday, telling them the fundamental purpose for the meeting is to communicate with each other. He said the forum is needed now more than ever.

“We’re all here to build, expand and strengthen our individual and collective network of partnerships,” he said. “I would propose that in an increasingly crowded maritime environment, in a world in which the pace of operations is increasing rapidly, it’s tremendously important that we build the trust and confidence across our navies. It’s far better, when a crisis emerges, that we can exercise and mitigate the crisis based on a foundation of trust and a relationship that’s mature.”

Collaboration among navies ensures their collective security and stability, he added.

Adm. Luis Fragoso, chief of the Portuguese Navy, said the symposium is a “fantastic opportunity” to exchange views and learn from other navies. He said he’s looking to strengthen ties with European navies he usually works with, and meet heads of navies who he doesn’t know yet in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. He hopes they can work together to combat terrorism and international criminal organizations, and address environmental problems.

The group plans to discuss collective maritime operations, cyber security and the importance of international norms and standards, among other topics. The heads of the New Zealand and Canadian navies were chatting informally at the start of the symposium and are now planning a training exercise together near Singapore next year.

Rear Adm. John Martin, the chief of New Zealand’s Navy, said the symposium is the right place to be briefed, keep informed and make contacts, which helps advance New Zealand’s interests at sea. Martin said it’s “so much easier to have a decent conversation” when the heads of navies are talking directly to each other, and that enhances relationships. He said that makes it easier in the future to quickly understand where there are opportunities and clear up any issues.

U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said navies in attendance have already worked together to combat terrorism, deter piracy and stop weapons proliferation and illicit trafficking. He reiterated that a “global network of navies” is best suited to deter, and respond to, crises.

“The world is a more secure and a more prosperous place because of the partnerships we build here,” he said.

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