Twelve nations from around the world have kicked off Exercise Obangame Express 2012 in the Gulf of Guinea. The aim of the four-day military exercise is to fight piracy, oil theft, smuggling and other maritime security issues.
The exercise, which began on Monday, is being hosted by Nigeria through the Navy’s Eastern Naval Command. The other nations participating include the United States, Belgium, Spain, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, the Republic of Congo, Benin, Sao Tome & Principe and Togo.
Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ola Ibrahim said that warships from the participating countries arrived at Eastern Naval Command headquarters on Sunday, reports the African Press Agency.
Ibrahim said the exercise should bring about cooperation amongst the navies involved and should make sure that the Nigerian Navy and its vessels are ready for future challenges.
“The Obangame Express will provides an excellent opportunity for navies in the Gulf of Guinea to enhance their ability to work together to deter crimes at sea,” said Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin, the Flag Officer Commanding the Eastern Naval Command. He added that the exercise would afford the participating countries the opportunity to share information, refine tactics, techniques and procedures in combating maritime security challenges.
“Littoral states rely on the global maritime environment for trade and commerce. However, in recent times, the Gulf of Guinea (GOG) maritime environment is increasingly threatened by a myriad of security challenges such as piracy, poaching, smuggling, oil theft and trafficking in humans, small arms and drugs. The need for a safe, secure and conducive maritime environment can, therefore, not be over-emphasized. This has necessitated practical steps to be taken by GOG countries to enhance their level of maritime domain awareness (MDA) and synergise their efforts to combat these sea-based crimes,” he said.
Jibrin said that Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea are losing US$2 billion annually to maritime crime, with smuggling, piracy and bunkering top on the list of this economic sabotage.
“There is growing awareness that the vast resources and potential in the Gulf of Guinea are being undermined by multifaceted domestic, regional and international and international threats and vulnerabilities.
“Rather than contributing to the stability and economic prosperity for the countries in the sub-region, pervasive insecurity in this resource-laden maritime environment has resulted in more than US$2 billion in annual financial losses, significantly constrained investment and economic prospects, growing crime and potentially adverse political consequences”, he stated.
He warned that in recent years, the “Gulf of Guinea maritime environment has been increasingly threatened by a myriad of security challenges such as piracy, poaching, smuggling, oil theft, trafficking and other transnational crimes”.
“The situation calls for a synergy of efforts amongst maritime nations towards ensuring a safe and secured maritime environment. In this regard, the US government, its European partners and African maritime nations decided to conduct annual multinational maritime security exercise”.
Some of these exercises include Cutlass Express, Phoenix Express, Saharan Express and Shared Accord.
Nigeria participated in Obangame Express for the first time last year, contributing the NNS Kyanwa and a team of Nigerian Navy Special Forces. This year Nigeria is expected to provide four warships, Navy helicopters and an Air Force maritime patrol aircraft.
The Leader of the US Navy team, Captain David Rollo, who is also the Maritime Affairs Officer, said the coming together of the different navies would afford them opportunity to benefit from each other’s technical and technological experience, the News Agency of Nigeria reports.