July 19 (UPI) -- Over 27 ships and 2,000 personnel of 12 NATO allies are on the Black Sea this week for the Breeze 2019 exercise, a Bulgaria-led maritime exercise.
Units from NATO allies Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States, as well as two of NATO's standing navies, its Maritime Group Two and Mine Countermeasures Group Two, are participating.
The nine-day exercise, conducted annually since 1996, is designed to improve operational and tactical interoperability, enhance interagency cooperation, and evaluate Bulgarian Navy units.
"The purpose of this exercise is to build our interoperability, that ability to work together as allies, coming from different countries, and being able to conduct operations with a standardized set of procedures," said Commodore Josee Kurtz of the Royal Canadian Navy, commander of the NATO maritime group.
The Black Sea exercise began on July 12. On Tuesday, the NATO mine countermeasures group conducted seamanship and communication drills. Vessels traveled through a fictional minefield, testing their ability to keep sea lanes open and safe for navigation.
This year's Breeze exercises began the day a separate exercise, named Sea Breeze, concluded in Odesa, Ukraine. That event was co-hosted in the Black Sea by Ukraine and the United States and also involved participants from Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.