Gabon gets new maritime operations centre

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Gabon’s navy has accepted a new maritime operations centre (MOC), which was built by the United States Navy’s Seabees. It will support Gabon in protecting its maritime borders and countering illicit trafficking.

The US Navy this week said Seabees assigned to US Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 turned over the MOC to the Gabonese navy at a ribbon cutting ceremony at Port Gentil on 3 May.

“The ceremony signifies the completion of the physical building and recognizes the collaboration between the two countries,” the US Navy said.

The MOC project, a 2,100 sq. foot structure, began in June 2018 by Seabee detachments assigned to NMCB-11, followed by NMCB-1, and brought to completion by NMCB-133. Seabees worked side-by-side with the Genie Militaire (Gabonese military engineers) to finish the task.

“The work that has taken place between the U.S. Navy Seabees and Gabon’s Genie Militaire is an example of a true partnership,” said Maj. WooWon Chung, Office of Security Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy Libreville. “This has been a successful effort by the U.S Embassy Libreville, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Navy and Gabon.”

The facility will be outfitted with modern equipment which will support Gabon in protecting their maritime borders. In addition, the maritime operations centre will support future military exercises with the US Navy, such as Obangame Express.

“Efficient, economical, and cooperative, a MOC is an awesome tool for maritime security and safety,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ghislain Moussavou, assigned to Naval Instruction Centre. “Indeed, this MOC is not only an instrument for collective security in the Gulf of Guinea, but also a platform for national synergy and a decision-making tool for the Navy.”

Port Gentil is a peninsula located in the Gulf of Guinea, a location that is vital to the joint efforts to ensure maritime security, regional cooperation, and combating illicit sea-based activity.

Apart from initiatives like that in Gabon, the United States has been establishing maritime domain awareness systems across Arica as part of the continent-wide Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC) programme.

The RMAC programme, authorized under section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006, permits the US Department of Defense to expend US funds in support of training and equipping foreign militaries to undertake counter terrorism and stability operations.

Particular focus was placed on West and Central African coastal nations to become self-sufficient in maritime safety and security and able to stop illegal activities, protect natural resources, and foster safety at sea, leading to greater prosperity and stability in the region. The RMAC system is integrated into the Maritime Safety and Security Information System, a global database to track ships all over the world.

The RMAC system receives, integrates, displays, records and distributes data from sensors and systems including maritime and air surveillance radars, GPS, Automatic Identification System (AIS), cameras and automated dependent surveillance system-broadcast (ADS-B). Other sensors can include UAVs, satellite tracking data etc.

RMAC was established in 2007, resulting in installation taking place in Nigeria, Djibouti and Kenya. Nigeria’s RMAC system was installed by October 2009 and includes 13 sites (six radar, five headquarters, one liquid natural gas plant and one vessel). Through its integral radar, camera and AIS, Nigeria’s RMAC provides round-the–clock surveillance of the maritime environment up to 35 nautical miles from the coast. Nigeria recently acquired the Falcon Technologies Falcon Eye mass surveillance system to monitor its territorial waters.

From 2015 new installations began in Senegal, Benin, Togo, Gabon and Tanzania. A Maritime Trade Information Sharing Centre (MTISC) was established in Ghana in 2015. Sao Tome and Principe also has the RMAC system, which it acquired as part of the establishment of its Coast Guard, with four radar sites and one headquarters as well as AIS receivers, day/night cameras and satellite communications links. Before 2005 the island nation had no coast guard but by 2008 its 85 strong coast guard was able to conduct its first rescue-at-sea exercise using the RMAC system.

Djibouti has 16 RMAC sites (six radar, eight camera-only sites, one HQ and one US Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa site). Kenya has five sites (four radar, one HQ); Gabon has one radar site and one HQ, Senegal has three radar sites and one HQ, Benin has two radar sites and one HQ; and Togo has one radar site.

Maritime security is a pressing issue in the Gulf of Guinea, with a large number of incidents being recorded in the region this year. For instance, the International Maritime Bureau reported that on 14 May, four robbers armed with automatic rifles and knives boarded an anchored bulk carrier of the coast of Guinea. They took the crew hostage, ransacked their cabins and stole ship and crew cash and properties before escaping. The ship’s master was injured during the incident.

Three vessels have been hijacked in the Gulf of Guinea this month alone, with the most recent beign a chemical tanker (G Dona I) captured off Togo. Armed pirates boarded and hijacked an anchored chemical tanker at Lome Anchorage on 12 May, holding its crew hostage. The tanker was freed by the Togolese Navy and the pirates captured.



Last month the International Maritime Bureau noted that the Gulf of Guinea represented a high number of piracy and armed robbery attacks at sea, with 22 incidents reported in the first quarter of 2019. The region also accounted for all of the worldwide crew kidnappings as 21 crew members were kidnapped across five separate incidents during this time period. Incidents were reported in the coastal countries, of Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo in the first quarter of 2019.