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Military leaders discuss coronavirus and other shared issues

September 15, 2021 GMT

Senior military representatives from dozens of countries gathered in Rhode Island Wednesday to talk about ways to address shared challenges, including combatting the coronavirus and ensuring service members are healthy.

Adm. Michael Gilday, the U.S. chief of naval operations, is hosting the 24th International Seapower Symposium at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport. It concludes Friday.

Gilday said some of the navy leaders in attendance had already shared what they learned with one another as they worked to deploy ships during a pandemic, but the symposium provides a forum for a more formal discussion. He told The Associated Press they’ll also discuss concerns about mental health, which have “spiked” lately.

The symposium was not held last year as planned because it wasn’t safe since the vaccine was not available, Gilday said.

There are 135 delegates from 104 nations, including about 30 people who are participating online instead of traveling to the United States. It’s the first time a virtual option is available. The delegates attending in person are required to be vaccinated, must be tested for COVID-19 daily and wear a mask while indoors at the college.

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When Gilday welcomed the group Wednesday, he assured them every precaution possible was being taken to safely conduct the event in person.

The symposium began in 1969 as a way for heads of navies and coast guards to meet to talk about how to ensure maritime security together. Attendees have gone on to work together to counter arms, drug and human trafficking, provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, coordinate search and rescue at sea, and thwart piracy, fishing and pollution violations.

Gilday said it’s in all of their political, social and economic interest to ensure freedom of the seas. China, Russia and Taiwan were not formally invited to the symposium, Gilday said, in keeping with the broader policies of the U.S. government.