African Maritime Forces Summit, Naval Infantry Leaders Symposium-Africa underway in Ghana

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Governmental and military leaders from more than 40 countries on four continents have kicked off the second annual African Maritime Forces Summit (AMFS) and third Naval Infantry Leaders Symposium-Africa (NILS-A) in Accra, Ghana.

The three-day AMFS and NILS-A, combined this year for the first time, began on 30 April under the theme “Cooperation at Sea: Safeguarding African Maritime Security”.

The summit brings together over 100 delegates as well as international partners and experts.

Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in his keynote address said Ghana is committed to playing a leading role in promoting maritime security in the region. He urged delegates to take decisive actions to combat piracy and transnational crimes and enhance regional cooperation with international partners to share intelligence and best practices.

Akufo-Addo said the blue economy holds enormous potential for coastal economies, but it faces threats in all forms which undermine economic gains and threaten human lives. “This potential is, however, constantly threatened by various maritime security challenges, including piracy, illegal fishing, smuggling, and maritime terrorism. These transnational crimes do not only threaten national and regional peace and security, but they also come at a great cost to the economies of both coastal and non-coastal states.”

Akufo-Addo said it is well known that the global maritime space, particularly the Gulf of Guinea, is a key route for international trade and connects all of the major continents. The current crisis in the Red Sea, and the re-routing of maritime traffic, he said, attest to the strategic importance of the western coast of Africa.

In the face of these challenges, he said it is imperative “we foster greater cooperation and collaboration amongst Africa maritime forces. By working together and sharing intelligence, and coordinating our efforts, we can address effectively maritime security threats and safeguard our maritime domain”.

Panel discussions during the conference include Strategies for Cooperation and Models for Combined Operations, The Spectrum of Maritime Action: At Sea and In the Littorals, Assessing Maritime Security Interventions, and Countering and Prosecuting Illicit Maritime Activity (From Piracy to IUUF).

In her opening remarks, US Ambassador Virginia Palmer said that, “here in West Africa, peacebuilding and security are never far from our minds. Ghana has been fortunate, so far, in avoiding violent extremist attacks. As you know, some of Ghana’s neighbours have not been so lucky. As His Excellency the President noted at the very beginning of his State of the Nation address earlier this year, ‘West Africa is under threat of terrorism and violent extremism,’ and that countries in this region can no longer take our territorial integrity for granted.’ These are indeed times in which the work and collaboration of everyone in this room is critical.”

She lauded Ghana for its role in regional peacekeeping and its contribution to United Nations peace operations – there are some 2 600 Ghanaian military and police personnel deployed to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa and the Middle East.

“The United States works closely with Ghana and many regional partners to build the capacity of security forces on and offshore,” the Ambassador said. “That includes technical trainings at the GAF [Ghana Armed Forces] Engineering School, maritime maintenance training at Naval Base Sekondi, and naval infrastructure projects at NAVTRAC [Naval Training Command]. It also includes equipment to build the capacity of the Ghana Navy, like the two 87 foot coastal security ships bolstering maritime security capacity in the Gulf of Guinea. We also provided $6 million in additional equipment to the Special Boat Squadron and projects at NAVTRAC, part of the $28 million in US security assistance to Ghana last year.”

In September last year, Ghana commissioned two 27 metre long Marine Protector class patrol vessels GNS Half Assini (P44) and GNS Aflao (P45) as well as two 12 metre Defender class Safe Boats 38 patrol boats provided by the United States.

“Our security cooperation, however, goes far beyond equipment,” Palmer continued. “It’s about building a long-term partnership, learning from each other, sharing best practices, and training together. Next month, Ghana will host and participate in multiple international military training exercises: Obangame Express, African Lion, and Flintlock.”

Palmer said this week is dedicated to African maritime security and cooperation, which are key elements of regional security. The summit comes at a critical time, she told delegates, as “our seas – especially the Gulf of Guinea – are bridges that connect us, and serve as channels for trade and shared prosperity. These waters, however, are also frontlines in our joint efforts to combat piracy, illegal fishing, and illicit trafficking — challenges that no single nation can effectively face alone. Our discussions and subsequent actions must lead to effective countering and prosecution of these activities.

“Our collaboration here in Accra is an opportunity to strengthen the ties that bind us across oceans and to reinforce our collective resolve to face maritime threats head-on,” she concluded.

US Naval Forces Africa hosted the inaugural AMFS in Cabo Verde in March 2023, while this is the third iteration of US Marine Corps Forces Africa (MARFORAF)’s NILS-A event.

“As host nation and a frequent participant in regional exercises and operations, Ghana’s Navy appreciates the importance of maritime collaboration. Through exercises like Obangame Express and Sea Lion, facilitating port visits from partner and ally nations, and bilateral and multilateral patrols in the Gulf of Guinea, the Ghana Navy has intimate knowledge of the exact subject material that AMFS/NILS-A covers,” the US Navy said.

“AMFS/NILS-A demonstrates how much solidarity the international community has in ensuring security and stability in our region. We are honored to host this critical initiative in 2024 as we take a leading role in ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce throughout the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa,” said Rear Admiral Issah Adam Yakubu, Chief of the Naval Staff of the Ghana Navy.

The African Maritime Forces Summit and Naval Infantry Leaders Symposium-Africa comes about one week prior to the kickoff of Exercise Obangame Express 2024. The multinational maritime coordination centre in Accra and various facilities in and around Takoradi will serve as hubs for Obangame Express exercise serials.