US Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk visits The Gambia, Sierra Leone

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The US Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk has made port calls in The Gambia and Sierra Leone under its forward deployment to the US Naval Forces Africa area of operations to promote maritime security and law enforcement.

The vessel arrived in Banjul, The Gambia, on 25 July 25 and then Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 30 July.

The visit to The Gambia included engagement opportunities with Gambian military, government and community leaders, including ship tours and professional knowledge exchanges on maritime security and law enforcement, US Naval Forces Europe & Africa stated.

“Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing is a pervasive global maritime security threat,” said Commander Andrew Pate, commanding officer aboard USCGC Mohawk. “International enforcement operations like the ones just completed with the Gambian Navy, the Senegalese Navy, and the US Coast Guard are part of a global effort to combat illegal exploitation of the oceans fish stocks.”

This visit marked the first port visit by a US ship in over two decades to demonstrate the strengthening security cooperation relationship between the US and The Gambia, US Naval Forces Africa reported.

“The Gambia’s coastline is important to the nation’s economy and its people. As such, it must be protected from the threat of illegal fishing,” said Sharon Cromer, US Ambassador to The Gambia. “The visit of the US Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk underscores that our partnership with The Gambia is wide-ranging and our mutual cooperation encompasses both land and sea.”

During the Sierra Leone call, Mohawk’s crew hosted ship tours for Sierra Leonean government and military leaders as well as participated in local discussions about the impact of IUU fishing with Tombo fishing community members, to include a film screening by award-winning Sierra Leonean documentarian Lansana Mansaray.

“My crew and I are excited to be in Freetown,” said Pate. “One of our primary objectives during this deployment is to enhance partner nations’ capacity to operate effectively in the maritime domain and promote targeted, effective, intelligence-driven enforcement operations.”

Following this port visit, Mohawk will embed a liaison officer in Sierra Leone’s Joint Maritime Committee’s Joint Operations Centre to support coordination for follow-on at sea operations.

“The US Mission in Sierra Leone is proud to welcome the USCGC Mohawk,” said Lieutenant Colonel Hans Hoffman, US Defence Attaché to US Embassy Freetown. “Maritime security is a priority issue for both of our countries. This partnership allows the United States to support the Sierra Leone Maritime Wing in their vital operations patrolling Sierra Leone’s sovereign waters.”

The Gambia is an important partner of the United States in promoting peace and stability in the Southern Atlantic, US Naval Forces Europe & Africa stated. In March, The Gambia and Sierra Leone participated in exercise Obangame Express 2022, the largest annual maritime security exercise in Western Africa. These types of exercises strengthen partnerships and allow countries to work more closely on shared transnational maritime challenges.

US Embassy Sierra Leone Media Coordinator, Alhassan Jalloh, told defenceWeb about the various maritime security challenges the country is facing. “Sierra Leone faces a wide array of illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing threats to its maritime economy and ecosystem. This ranges from illegal fishing to illegal transshipment, and the long-term consequences for Sierra Leone are dire. Sierra Leoneans get the majority of their protein from fish. Illegal fishing, which often supports East Asian markets, provides little economic benefit to Sierra Leone and no fiscal benefit to the government.”

“Illegal fishing is conducted by boats of many nationalities. Chinese vessels number among many vessels responsible for IUU fishing, but not all Chinese fishing vessels are illegally fishing. The US Government support to Sierra Leonean marine resource protection efforts is not targeting any country. The United States’ partnership with Sierra Leone in maritime security is enduring and has been in existence for many years, predating Secretary Pompeo’s tenure,” the Embassy media officer said.

The Embassy revealed that as a versatile vessel, Mohawk is “lending its advanced surveillance and interdiction capabilities to Sierra Leone maritime security agencies so that they can better enforce Sierra Leonean laws in their territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ].” There is a bilateral, military-to-military engagement. “This partnership is codified in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Sierra Leone. While the Mohawk’s patrol with Sierra Leonean partners will focus only on supporting law enforcement and maritime security operations in Sierra Leone’s waters, the US Government hopes the patrol, and any related enforcement actions, will serve as a deterrent. IUU fishing fleets often operate across many countries’ EEZs. Law enforcement actions taken against those in Sierra Leonean waters may also prevent illegal exploitation of other regional fisheries.”

In Sierra Leone, commander Pate said, “One of our primary objectives during this deployment is to enhance partner nations’ capacity to operate effectively in the maritime domain and promote targeted, effective, intelligence-driven enforcement operations.”