Maritime forces from Gulf of Guinea nations, Europe, South America, the United States and several regional and international organizations began the multinational maritime Exercise, Obangame Express 2015 on March 19.
Obangame Express, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), is designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness (MDA), information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea nations to counter sea-based illicit activity, US Naval Forces Europe-Africa said.
“The benefits of our international cooperation are undeniable. We are all interdependent upon each other to ensure the safety and security of the maritime commons,” said Pat Alsup, chargé d’affaires, U.S. Embassy, Accra, Ghana, during the opening ceremony. “Our close cooperation will strengthen the industries of transportation, shipping, fishing, commerce, tourism, and resource development. That results in economic growth here in the West African region—a central goal shared by the United States and its regional partners represented here today.”
“The Gulf of Guinea nations are all looking forward to the day when a ship at sea can communicate directly with other ships or a Maritime Operations Center of a neighboring country for assistance that would allow incidents of illegal activities to be apprehended at sea,” said Rear Admiral Geoffrey Mawuli Biekro, chief of the naval staff, Ghana Navy. “There were numerous successes following Obangame Express 14 that we will leverage this year. We, the Gulf of Guinea nations should work hard to achieve further cooperation, not just through operations, but also legal frameworks and sharing of information.”
“Every nation represented in the exercise plays a critical role in not only their own nation’s maritime security, but the security of the entire region. Each year of Obangame Express, we build on the successes of the previous year to mature the coordination between nations, develop a higher level of cooperation and improve the capability and capacity of our maritime forces. During this exercise, we will not only work to enhance tactical and operational maritime security capabilities, but to improve international and interagency coordination for responding to threats to maritime security,” said Captain John Rinko, officer in tactical command of Obangame Express 15.
Obangame Express, now in its fifth year, is one of four U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (NAVEUR-NAVAF/C6F) facilitated regional exercises. The exercise is part of a comprehensive strategy by NAVEUR-NAVAF/C6F and AFRICOM to provide collaborative opportunities amongst African forces and international partners that addresses maritime security concerns.
The exercise seeks to leverage the Code of Conduct for West and Central Africa, which provides a regional framework for cooperation and information sharing. It lasts nine days, with a two phase underway portion that will encompass a regional framework and then transition to an emphasis on national patrols. Throughout, the Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs) will exercise information sharing practices.
Specific skill sets exercised for Obangame Express include boarding techniques, search and rescue operations, medical casualty response, radio communication, and information management techniques. Through enhanced cooperation, detection capabilities, and capability to respond — all objectives of Obangame Express — Gulf of Guinea nations seek to ensure narcotics traffickers are deterred, fisheries trade is protected, and waters remain free of piracy, allowing for global trade to continue unhampered and thus enhancing overall economic stability.
The joint high-speed vessel USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) is participating in Obangame Express. Participating nations in Obangame Express 2015 include Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).