USS Hershel “Woody” Williams takes part in exercise Grand African Nemo


The US Navy Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams joined NATO Allies and partners for the French-led exercise Grand African Navy’s Exercise for Maritime Operations (NEMO) 2020 in the Gulf of Guinea.

More than 30 ships and aircraft from 14 nations participated in the week-long exercise between 5 and 9 October, which included more than 20 scenarios on combatting illegal fishing, piracy, drug trafficking, and pollution, as well as rescue at sea.

“Participating in Grand African NEMO alongside our Allies and partners has been an incredibly rewarding experience,” said Captain David L Gray, commanding officer, Hershel “Woody” Williams, Blue Crew. “It is vitally important for our countries to work together in the Gulf of Guinea to improve maritime domain awareness in order to fight malign activity, ensure the maritime security, and protect the blue economies of our West African partners.”

The French Navy conducts three to four regional naval exercises annually as part of the African NEMO exercise series, which culminates in the major annual exercise Grand African Nemo. Starting in 2013, the exercise series trains on the collective efforts to establish maritime security and stability in the Gulf of Guinea.

“Thanks to a painstaking preparation and a high level of involvement, we collectively achieved most of the objectives at stake,” said French Vice Admiral Olivier Lebas, commander in chief of the French Navy in Atlantic. “I want to salute all the participating units for their outstanding performance.”

Grand African Nemo 2020 participants included Benin, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Italy, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and the United States.

The United States serves as co-secretariat of the G7++ Friends of Gulf of Guinea Group for 2020, with Gabon serving as co-secretariat. The G7++ Friends of Gulf of Guinea Group helps secure the Gulf of Guinea against the threats of piracy, armed robbery, and other illicit maritime activities. By creating the conditions for improved maritime security, this group fosters prosperity and economic growth for all countries along the Gulf of Guinea, the US Navy said.

No boardings or personnel transfers were conducted during the training evolution as a precaution against COVID-19.

Hershel “Woody” Williams recently completed tracking and manoeuvring exercises with Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Cabo Verde, and Morocco. The ship is on a regularly-scheduled deployment to the US Naval Forces Africa area of operations and is a key element in integration between US Navy and Marine Corps operations, especially Marine aviation and support to amphibious operations.

Other operations and training the ship can conduct include support to Special Operations, command and control, and staging of equipment and other assets, as directed. The ship will be a long-term presence assigned to the US Africa Command mission set and will support security cooperation missions and operations in and around the African continent.