An almost 10 month-long deployment of the US Military Sealift Command-chartered HSV (High Speed Vessel) Swift has ended in Naples, Italy.
During its time at sea Swift, her crew of contract mariners and a US Navy detachment conducted 38 port visits in Africa, circumnavigating the continent in support of Africa Partnership Stations (APS) and theatre security co-operation visits.
Swift spent two weeks in South Africa last June, calling on SA Navy Fleet headquarters at Simon’s town as well as East London and Durban.
The overall focus on Swift’s voyage was to build maritime safety and security by increasing maritime awareness, response capabilities and infrastructure.
After stops in Georgia, Romania, Croatia and France the twin-hulled vessel’s first African port of call was Abidjan in Ivory Coast before sailing on to the DRC, Namibia and South Africa on theatre security co-operation calls. These were followed by similar visits to Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.
During these port visits Swift’s military detachment, APS trainers and international staff conducted classroom and hands-on training in basic infantry skills, hand signal communication, non-lethal weapons tactics, leadership, port security, martial arts and riot control.
Project Handclasp, a humanitarian and community driven operation, was also an integral part of the Swift voyage. This saw the ship’s crew, military detachment and other embarked staff involved in community relations projects, soccer matches and blood drives as well as distribution of educational, humanitarian and goodwill material.
“The main idea of APS is to help developing nations and build strong relations for the future. I believe we have planted good seeds with these missions,” civilian mariner third mate Nathan Gresh said.
After loading 147 pallets of goodwill and humanitarian supplies in Spain to assist providers of medical care, Swift headed to Liberia.
“It’s amazing to think of the impact some of these items will have. We have 11 000 pairs of glasses alone and they will positively affect thousands of people in Liberia alone,” said supply officer Lieutenant Christopher Ganske before Swift docked in the west African country.
Other port visits included Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Togo and Cape Verde. While the APS focus continued on military to military exchanges and training, a medical exchange component was added. This was evidenced in Ghana where a team of medical personnel conducted a medical civil action program with Ghanaian health professionals at the Supomu Dunkwa Health Centre, conducting classroom training engagements and planning for future APS evolutions. In Benin, Navy and civilian medical personnel from the NGO Project Hope hosted a three-day medical civic action programme (MEDCAP) health fair to provide optometry care, paediatric, general and maternal health screenings, as well as patient education in the areas of hygiene and nutrition.
“The real reward from APS was to be engaged with African host nations, meet people, get to know what issues are important to them and feel we are contributing to their security and economy,” said Lieutenant Commander Charles Eaton, officer in charge of Swift’s Blue Crew.
“I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway you can have from any deployment to feel you made a difference in the world.”