On December 31, 1943, Marine Iron & Ship Builders of Duluth, Minn. launched the Sweetbrier, a 180-foot Balsam Class U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender. Nearly 72 years later, a multinational group of navies practiced visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations on board the Sweetbrier, known since 2001 as the Ghana Naval Ship (GNS) Bonsu.
On March 17-18, Ghanaian, German and U.S. Navy Sailors occupied the ship to practice tactical sweeps, room clearings, prisoner handling and medical responses as part of a training program prior to the start of Exercise Obangame Express in the Gulf of Guinea region. Those skills will be put to the test March 20-26, 2015 during the exercise, when 24 countries and international organizations will work together to increase maritime security and sustain global commerce.
The connection to Obangame Express also brings to the surface ties to recent U.S. and Ghanaian history.
Commander Derrick Attachie, Ghana’s lead planner for Obangame Express, has a personal perspective on Bonsu’s history with the Ghanaian fleet since its acquisition through the Department of Defense’s Excess Defense Articles programme.
“I served as the first navigation officer of the Bonsu when we took possession of the ship,” Attachie said. “I was sent to Cordova, Arkansas in September 2001 to help bring her to Ghana.”
He remembers every port of call from the three-month journey home, starting with a tragic moment in U.S. history. “Heading south from the Coast Guard Station, we arrived in San Diego on September 11, 2001. The city was so quiet when we pulled in. Flags were at half-mast, and we didn’t know why. We didn’t leave for four days.”
Bonsu continued on through the Panama Canal, before arriving in Baltimore, M.D. for the official changing of the flag in November 2001.
After joining the Ghana navy, Bonsu would twice play a major humanitarian role for Ghana.
On June 14, 2003, political turmoil in Liberia led to a precarious situation for Ghanaians in the country. The Bonsu was sent to the capitol city of Monrovia, where the ship embarked and evacuated more than 1,300 Ghanaians and other nationals. Bonsu, which was built for a crew of 47, served as the home for all of those people for two and a half days. Bonsu made it home, safely removing Ghanaian citizens from an unstable environment.
And less than a year later, on March 19, 2004, Bonsu and its sister ship, GNS Anzone—the former U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender Woodrush—rushed to Equatorial Guinea during domestic unrest to evacuate more than 427 Ghanaians and nationals of Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso.
While Bonsu is currently docked as it awaits repairs for parts that are today more difficult to acquire, the ship’s time of active service is not yet over. According to Attachie, the Ghanaian navy expects to send the ship out to sea for work-up trials by summer 2015, where it will continue its service as a workhorse that has ably served two allies in ensuring safety and security on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean.