Naval forces from the United States, Europe, South America and Africa commenced the multinational maritime exercise Obangame Express, April 16.
Obangame Express, now in its fourth year, is designed to improve tactical expertise and cooperation among West and Central African nations in order to enhance those maritime forces’ collective ability to deter illicit activity and maritime threats in the Gulf of Guinea.
The weeklong exercise will take place in two areas near the coasts of Nigeria and Cameroon. There will be an inport preparatory phase and then the 31 participating ships will go to sea to test maritime security skills.
“Every nation represented here today plays a critical role in regional maritime security and we all know that no one nation alone can ensure safe maritime operations,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Nancy Lacore, Obangame Express exercise director. “It is through exercises such as Obangame that nations can work together to lay the foundation for the regional cooperation that will ensure the safety and security of military, commercial and civilian operations at sea.”
While the Nigerian navy hosted the opening ceremony and is providing the port facilities for a number of the participating ships, senior leaders and participants recognize this is truly an international collaborative event, and that maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea requires a collaborative effort.
“In light of recent challenges in the Gulf of Guinea, our collaboration between the countries of the Gulf and our international partners – U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Naval Forces Africa – has resulted in this event meant to develop individual capacities and to secure the maritime area,” said Nigerian navy Rear Adm. Aoa Ikioda, chief of plans and policy for the Nigerian navy.
Obangame Express aims to test a wide variety of skill sets such as visit, board, search and seizure, medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers. Participants will execute tactics and techniques within scenarios that mirror real world counter-piracy and counter-illicit trafficking operations.
“The United States remains absolutely committed to collaborating with and supporting Nigeria in its ongoing efforts to increase maritime safety and security in the region. We have a very strong and enduring relationship with the Nigerian navy, and we deeply appreciate your lead role in bringing the many nations of the Gulf of Guinea together to work cooperatively,” said James Entwistle, U.S. ambassador to Nigeria.
The exercise is one of four U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa facilitated regional Express-series exercises under the international collaborative maritime capacity building program Africa Partnership Station (APS). These regional maritime exercises serve to test skills learned from previous APS training events and ongoing efforts to increase proficiencies in maritime security operations.
African partners expressed the importance of this type of collaboration and continual improvement in maritime security skill sets to achieve a safer and more secure Gulf of Guinea.
“This exercise is designed to encourage countries in the Gulf of Guinea, and to a very large extent the rest of Africa, to work together and ensure interoperability of communications and shared maritime domain awareness information,” said Nigerian navy Rear Adm. Si Alade, flag officer commanding Western Naval Command Nigeria.
Twenty nations are participating in Obangame Express, including Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States.
The U.S. Navy’s first, joint-high speed vessel, USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1), and its embarked crew of military personnel and civil service mariners will participate in Obangame Express along with 30 ships. Spearhead is deployed to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations for its maiden deployment in support of the APS program and maritime security operations.
Press Release, April 17, 2014; Image: Wikimedia