U.S., European, South American and African naval forces concluded two days of in-port familiarization drills at the Nigerian navy’s Joint Maritime Security Training Center, April 17.
The evolutions were part of Obangame Express, a Gulf of Guinea-based multinational maritime exercise designed to improve cooperation, interdiction expertise and information sharing among West and Central African maritime forces in order to increase maritime safety and security in the region.
A variety of skill sets including visit, board, search and seizure, and medical response were tested in order to prepare personnel for three days of underway operations in the Gulf of Guinea that will include real-world, at sea scenarios mirroring counter-piracy and counter-illicit trafficking operations.
“Exposure to these techniques and the legal principles that apply, will provide sailors the ability to make sure they are properly gathering and handling evidence so traffickers can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, no matter which country has jurisdiction,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Jeffrey Deitel, officer in charge of the Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team.
Members of the Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team led classroom discussions and hands-on sessions for more than 50 individuals from participating nations. The sessions focused on techniques for identifying, stopping, searching and collecting evidence from vessels suspected of trafficking drugs, weapons and other contraband.
Participants learned common ways smugglers use to hide contraband on boats, and how to identify concealment. They also handled field drug test kits used to test for illicit substances and the proper procedures that go along with testing.
The exercise included tactical movement familiarization, where participants, many from special forces commands, practiced entering and searching a ship’s hull – another place smugglers use to hide illegal items. The techniques practiced have real-world applications for many of the participants.
“I learned new tactics and new ideas on searching the hull of a vessel. Most importantly was how to search a suspect,” said Nathaniel Odike, an able seaman with the Nigerian Navy.
“Contending with weapons trafficking, piracy and other militancy issues facing our navies, observing and learning about the ways criminals at sea hide weapons, and knowing what to look for is something that is important to me in my job,” Odike added.
Twenty nations are participating in Obangame Express 2014 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.
Press Release, April 21, 2014; Image: Africom