Naval vessels from the United States and six other countries departed Key West Thursday to prepare for a nine-day multination joint maritime exercise in the western Caribbean.
The presence of a dozen military ships in the Southernmost City, from Sept. 15 through Wednesday marked the largest gathering of naval firepower in Key West, since 1974.
Under the banner of Unitas 2012, ships from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the U.S. are to train together in a realistic tactical environment featuring undersea warfare, maritime interdiction operations, air defense, amphibious operations, electronic warfare and special warfare.
"The purpose of Unitas, which is Latin for 'unity,' is to bring these countries together, put them through some various maritime scenarios and exercises once they get out to sea to figure out how they can better work together towards a common mission or a common goal," said Capt. Patrick Lefere, commanding officer at Naval Air Station Key West.
Unitas exercises have taken place for 53 years and it is the longest-running joint naval exercise.
Key West has a long Navy tradition with operations dating back to 1822.
"Bringing Unitas 2012 into Key West is really a significant event for us," Lafere said. "Looking behind us here, in the harbor, we've got 10 ships in that harbor and we haven't had that many Naval vessels in that harbor in about 40 years. It speaks to the great relationship we have between the Navy, between the military, and the city of Key West."