US helps Africa navies boost Gulf of Guinea security

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Reuters reports the US Navy is training partners from around Africa’s Gulf of Guinea to help boost maritime security in a region plagued by piracy, drug smuggling and raids on oil facilities.
The USS Nashville, a 17,000-tonne warship with around 420 crew, is travelling to five ports around West and Central Africa where it is hosting training courses from oil platform protection to fire-fighting and maritime law.
Western and other nations have sent warships to fight pirates threatening shipping off the Horn of Africa but gunmen in fast launches have also been preying on oil and fishing boats and even coastal towns on the other side of the continent.
Nigerian waters ranked second in the world last year after Somalia for incidents of piracy, eclipsing even Indonesia and the Malacca Straits, where increased surveillance has bolstered security, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Many African navies lack the resources to stop increasingly bold attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, a region grouping Africa’s main suppliers of crude oil to the West and China.
“Like many other areas of the world, there are a number of challenges in the maritime sector throughout the sub-region,” the USS Nashville’s commodore, Captain Cindy Thebaud, told Reuters during the vessel’s visit to Lagos, Nigeria.
“Whether it’s illegal fishing, … illegal migration, the increase we have seen in the past few years in drug trafficking into West and Central Africa … one of the exacerbating factors is the resource challenges many countries in the region face.”
Seaborne raids in the region long focused on Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where militants are pushing demands for a greater share of oil revenues. But recent attacks have crossed borders, making naval co-operation between neighbouring countries vital. 
Equatorial Guinea’s government blamed Nigerian militants for an armed attack on its island capital Malabo last month while suspected Nigerian pirates kidnapped a Ukrainian and three Filipinos seized from an oil vessel off Cameroon 10 days ago.
Regional role
The USS Nashville is visiting ports in Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon as part of “Africa Partnership Station” (APS), meant to help strengthen co-operation between navies policing West and Central Africa’s coastline.
“All the training we are giving has been requested by the host nations,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Carl Friedrich of the US Marine Corps, whose 40-strong team is teaching courses including hand-to-hand combat and intelligence gathering.
More than 200 members of Nigeria’s navy and army are receiving training in subjects including oil rig protection, fire-fighting and fisheries protection. Spanish and Italian marines are among other nationalities contributing expertise.
“The Nigerian navy does not have a coastguard so all these duties are being given to us,” said Nigerian navy Commander Enoch Bello (pictured).
Attacks on oil installations in the creeks of the Niger Delta, one of the world’s largest wetlands, have cut Nigeria’s oil output by more than fifth over the past three years.
The militants have also struck in deep water, attacking Royal Dutch Shell’s $3.6 billion offshore Bonga oilfield last June and forcing the plant, which has a nameplate capacity of 220,000 barrels per day, to shut down. 
The Italian Navy are teaching the course on oil platform protection meant to help stem such strikes.
“They focus primarily on … how you would sector out the areas, maintain surveillance and the way to respond if a crisis occurred,” said U.S. Navy Lieutenant Kemi Elebute, as Nigerian and US Marines practised martial arts behind him.