Thirteenth iteration of Exercise Obangame Express underway

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The thirteenth iteration of Exercise Obangame Express commenced with an opening ceremony held at the Cadet School of Libreville in Gabon last week.

‘Obangame’ means ‘togetherness’ in the Fang language, which is spoken primarily in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

“After six years, Gabon is back on the international naval stage, a second time, to host the 13th edition of Exercise Obangame Express,” said Rear Admiral Charles Hubert Bekale Meyong, Gabon Navy’s Deputy CNO in charge of Operations.

“It is an honour and a privilege for our country and mainly our navy to do it, as we continue to work, side by side, with our partners and allies in this critical and strategic region of the world.”

Rear Admiral Michael Mattis, Director of Strategic Effects for United States Naval Forces Europe and Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF), said Obangame Express remains the premier maritime exercise in West and Central Africa due to the outstanding efforts of professionals from dozens of countries year in and year out.

“We are thrilled to learn from our partners and Allies as we test our individual and combined capabilities and procedures over the next two weeks.”

The annual exercise, which kicked off on 6 May, aims at improving regional cooperation in support of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and enhancing and strengthening maritime capabilities and domain awareness, information sharing between Maritime Operation Centres (MOC), maritime interdiction procedures, adherence to the rule of law, and counter-proliferation interdiction capabilities.

Some 30 regional and international partners collaborate to enhance collective maritime law enforcement capabilities, bolster national and regional security in West Africa, and foster greater interoperability among US, African, and multinational partners, the US military said.

Among the navies taking part in this year’s exercise are those of the US, Gabon (this year’s host), Nigeria through its Eastern Naval Command, Cameroon, Ghana, Republic of Congo, Benin, Sao Tome & Principe, Togo, Angola, Belgium and Spain.

Others include Brazil, Canada, Italy, the UK, Liberia, Morocco, the Netherlands, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

Obangame Express 2024 brings together over 4 500 sailors and maritime law experts from across Africa, Europe, and elsewhere.

The US, which routinely exercises with the navies of West Africa, was represented at the opening event by the US Ambassador to Gabon, Vernelle FitzPatrick, and US Navy Rear Admiral Heidi Berg.

Joining Obangame Exercise 2024 was the US Navy Lewis B Puller-class expeditionary sea base, USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams (ESB 4) which arrived in Port Owendo in time for the opening.

The ship is on a scheduled deployment to the African continent.

After getting underway again to support the exercise, USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams and her crew acted as a platform for maritime domain awareness throughout the exercise, for Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) scenarios, and the launching and recovery of unmanned surface vehicles (USV).

Unique to this year’s iteration was the first ever deployment of US USVs (Ocean Aero TRITON unmanned surface vessels) in the Gulf of Guinea and enhanced SeaVision* and MOC incorporation**, enabling participants to train on new and more capable systems and communication methods throughout the duration of the exercise.

For the first time in the series, Obangame Express contained linkages to the Special Operations Command Africa-led exercise Flintlock, with multinational combined VBSS events taking place in Takoradi, Ghana.

Many of the participating nations had taken part in the recent combined African Maritime Forces Summit and Naval Infantry Leaders Symposium-Africa that was hosted in Accra, Ghana.

Obangame Express 2024 is continuing this week until ending on Friday 17 May 2024.

* SeaVision – SeaVision is a web-based situational awareness tool that focuses on enhancing maritime domain awareness (MDA) by collecting and sharing data across various maritime operations centres (MOCs).

** MOC Incorporation – MOCs are central hubs where maritime information is collected, analysed, and disseminated. Incorporating SeaVision into MOCs allows for better coordination and faster response times.

Written by Africa Ports & Ships and republished with permission. The original article can be found here.