Exercise Obangame Express 2024 wraps up

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After two weeks of varied, collaborative training throughout Africa’s West Coast and the Gulf of Guinea, 32 participating nations marked the successful conclusion of exercise Obangame Express 2024 at a closing ceremony in Libreville, Gabon, on 17 May.

Obangame Express provides an opportunity for participating navies to improve communications, both ship to shore and between maritime operation centres (MOCs), through realistic training scenarios that build interoperability and enhance the maritime security environment. These efforts support a more secure, safe, and economically prosperous maritime environment, the US Navy said.

The exercise kicked off with an opening ceremony at the Cadet School of Libreville on 6 May, as Gabonese Defence Minister Major General Brigitte Onkanowa, US Ambassador to Gabon Vernelle Trim FitzPatrick, and Rear Admiral Michael Mattis, Director of Strategic Effects for US Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF), ushered in the 13th iteration of West and Central Africa’s largest maritime exercise.

“The Republic of Gabon and our African partners are the cornerstone of Obangame Express. This collaboration has been instrumental in strengthening maritime governance and security, crucial for the economic vitality of a region where over 90 percent of trade is conducted by sea,” said FitzPatrick. “Together, in our shared Atlantic Basin, we are tackling pressing challenges posed by malign actors, such as illegal fishing, piracy, and illicit trafficking, which threaten not only local economies but also global commerce, safety, and the marine environment.”

After the exercise officially began, Obangame Express participants quickly got to work. From Cabo Verde and Senegal in the north, to Angola in the south, and everywhere in between (a coastline that stretches for thousands of nautical miles), partners and allies embarked on a robust programme of land-based and at-sea events throughout a vast operating area, according to the US Navy.

As the host nation, Gabon served as the primary hub for exercise command and control. A multinational contingent of liaison officers (LNOs) and NAVAF personnel led the exercise from the exercise control group (ECG) in Libreville.

New to this year’s iteration was the establishment of an overall ECG lead, Nigerian Navy Captain Adagogo Jaja. Jaja, an Obangame Express veteran, provided leadership and guidance to the LNOs in the ECG, enhancing collaboration and coordination among participants. He also provided training to the ECG crew that will prove beneficial long after the exercise.

“Approaching our exercise control group in this way had immense benefits for all nations, allowing for streamlined communications across nations and zones,” said Jaja. “Our team did an outstanding job of working together and elevating our cooperation throughout the course of the exercise.”

This collaboration bolstered coordination throughout the exercise and in the real world, as well.

“Another great benefit of this exercise is the relationships we build,” Jaja continued. “Now, when one nation needs to talk to another, they know their counterparts by name and have a greater awareness of how they can best operate together.”

While forces trained on land and in various MOCs, a flotilla of naval assets undertook multiple maritime scenarios, working together to counter piracy, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUUF), and human, arms and drug trafficking. The combined team also completed search and rescue, refuelling, and shiphandling and manoeuvring evolutions.

These events took place throughout the five zones of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, which serves as a foundational maritime security initiative in the West and Central African region. As in real world operations, Obangame Express nations worked together in the context of the Yaoundé Code.

The Code, in effect for more than a decade, brings African partners together in an information-sharing agreement with facilities and operations centres in multiple countries across the region. This information sharing filters through national MOCs, to regional coordination centres, and eventually to the interregional coordination centre (ICC) in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

“Obangame Express is about introducing realistic scenarios like the ones our Atlantic African partners encounter every day, allowing us to test the information sharing architecture of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct,” said Captain Harish Patel, the overall exercise director for Obangame Express 2024. “What we learn and train on here will absolutely benefit our partners throughout the year, and I know they will be able to incorporate the lessons and training tools we’ve presented here as a team into their maritime domain awareness picture on a daily basis.”

Approximately 5 000 personnel from 32 participating nations joined the 2024 version of the exercise, accomplishing 108 scenarios. The 32 nations included Angola, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, The Gambia, Togo, Tunisia, and the United States.

Additionally, representatives and LNOs from throughout the Yaoundé Code of Conduct infrastructure, including the ICC, Regional Centre for Maritime Security in Central Africa (CRESMAC) and Regional Centre For Maritime Security in West Africa (CRESMAO), participated from the ECG, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and INTERPOL also joined the exercise in multiple countries.