The United States Navy is working with partners in Africa to help them enhance maritime security, with exercises, training and aid being delivered, according to US Navy Admiral James Foggo III.
“The maritime domain has strategic security implications; not only do piracy and other illicit maritime activities threaten development efforts, weaken state security, and rob states of precious resources required for greater economic growth and effective governance, they can easily destabilize region and create pockets for terrorism to thrive,” said Foggo, Commander US Naval Forces Europe/Commander US Naval Forces Africa.
“We work by, with, and through our African partners through joint engagements such as the African Partnership Station exercises like Cutlass Express, Obangame Express, and Phoenix Express and operations like Junction Rain. We train side-by-side to enhance their capabilities and inter-country communications. With 38 of Africa’s 54 nations being coastal, maritime domain awareness plays a key role in the overall security and stability of the continent. Naval efforts of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa (CNE-A), through the relationships we are building and our engagements in the Horn of Africa, Gulf of Guinea, and North Africa, are helping to create security that leads to economic and social development, which provides opportunities for our African partners to prosper,” Foggo said.
Gulf of Guinea
“In 2010, the 10 countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea operated independently. One country would detect a small boat carrying illegal drugs or a ship boarded by pirates. The country would deploy forces with the goal of tracking down and boarding this vessel, but the moment the vessel crossed into another country’s jurisdiction, efforts were often hampered, as information was not being passed from country to country. Countries did not have the key contacts of their neighboring country leadership, the technology to track maritime activities, or the agreements in place to share this information. They were making the effort but were losing resources as threats crossed from one territorial body of water to the next.
“At around this time, CNE-A began hosting an annual exercise series. This includes Phoenix Express in North Africa/the southern Mediterranean Sea, Cutlass Express in East Africa/Western Indian Ocean, and Obangame Express, which is held in the Gulf of Guinea. These exercises followed several years of training under the Africa Partnership Station initiative and are designed to provide necessary focus and engagement opportunities for the U.S. Navy to work with our African partners while incorporating European, North and South American, and other regional allies and partners. The primary goal of these exercises is to focus on maritime domain awareness and law enforcement while promoting national and regional maritime security.
“As an example, Obangame Express 2019 (OE 19) had 33 nations participating from the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa, Europe, and North and South America. It was the largest iteration of the exercise to date and included more than 2,500 personnel, 95 ships, and 12 air craft. More than 80 scenarios were worked across the five maritime zones of the Yaounde Code of Conduct, utilizing seven national military command centers and 19 Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs). OE 19 was the first time a USCG cutter (USCGC) participated, and their unique capabilities allowed them to conduct specialized joint training with our partners on law enforcement.
“Along with USCGC Thetis’ (WMEC 910) participation in OE 19, there were many other firsts at the exercise:
Ivorian naval forces incorporated drug-detecting dogs for the first time, working to search a simulated narcotics smuggling vessel to find hidden contraband.
Members of the Nigerian Navy’s special boat service fast-roped from a helicopter onto the deck of a Nigerian warship, conducting the first vertical visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) of a simulated non-compliant vessel during OE.
Nigeria opened its Maritime Domain Awareness Training Center, which now serves as a training hub for West African countries and contributes to improved communications between partner nations in the region. The center will also increase the frequency at which training can occur and will cut down on cost for African maritime nations, who now no longer need to travel to Europe or North America for training; they can get the same great training much closer to home!
Thetis also conducted joint operations with the Nigerian Navy and the Cabo Verdean Coast Guard during Operation Junction Rain (OJR). USCG law enforcement personnel acted in an advise and assist capacity to the partner nation aboard their ships to help counter illicit trade and criminal activities, providing guidance and training to the Nigerians and then the Cabo Verdeans in their respective territorial waters. U.S. Navy forces continued OJR with Ghana and Togo in June and will continue the operation later this year with Seychelles.
Maintenance and support
“During my many engagements with the African Heads of Navy, I hear about their issues keeping aging ships operational, which prevents them from properly employing them to protect their coasts,” Foggo said. “One other great initiative we are undertaking this year – which is actually happening right now – is the USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7) deployment to the Gulf of Guinea to conduct maintenance engagements with several nations in the region to conduct side-by-side assessments and workshops to address best practices and preventative maintenance.
“Our European partners are also working with African partners to enhance their capabilities. The French Navy hosts exercise series African Naval Exercise Maritime Operations (NEMO), which provides further training and operationalization of the Yaounde Code of Conduct in the Gulf of Guinea. Last year, the U.S. Navy supported the inaugural Grand African NEMO, the capstone of the exercise series, by deploying a P-8A Poseidon for the first time ever in the Gulf of Guinea.”
Real world successes
Foggo said naval exercises operations and initiatives have led to real-world success in Africa. For instance, in March, Thetis conducted a rescue-a-sea of two fishermen, who were presumed dead, approximately 40 miles off of Sierra Leone. The crew spotted a fishing vessel adrift and proceeded to render assistance. The fishermen had been lost at sea for three days and had run out of food, water, and fuel. Thetis provided necessary supplies and safely transferred the fishermen and their vessel to the Sierra Leone Maritime Authority to be brought ashore.
In May, the Togo Navy successfully intervened and captured pirates attempting to hijack a tanker at an anchorage in Togo’s territorial waters. The MOC received a call from the owner of the tanker reporting that his ship had been attacked at the Lomé anchorage. The Togo Navy and MOC worked quickly to intervene with simultaneous deployment of a fast patrol craft and two patrol boats along with a VBSS team. The ship was stopped approximately 25 nautical miles from the port and diverted back to the anchorage. The ship’s crew of seven was released without any injuries, and the eight pirates handed over to investigating authorities for further processing. The Togo Navy, like many other regional partners, has made significant progress throughout the past decade, and they will only continue to improve, Foggo said.
“Another example of how far our African partners have advanced in the maritime domain is the success story of Motor Vessel Maximus. Back in 2016 when I was the U.S. 6thFleet commander, I received a call from Capt. Heidi Agle, then-commodore of Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa and Task Force 63. She was in charge of our Africa Partnership Station activities in the Gulf of Guinea. Heidi called me from aboard USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) to report piracy activities in the gulf of Guinea near her ship. She was instructed to find the pirates’ “mother” vessel. The next morning, she reported pirates had taken over Maximus. Her mission was to find the ship, establish a safe stand-off range, and then call our African partners, starting with Ghana, to let them know that their assistance was needed to monitor the vessel and pass its position to other regional navies and coast guards. The Ghanaians did just that, and as Maximus transited through the waters of Togo and Benin, information was efficiently relayed through each of the MOCs. When the pirates aboard Maximus entered Nigerian waters, the Nigerian Navy was ready for them. NNS Okpabana, a former USCGC, with an embarked Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service VBSS team, challenged the pirates by coming alongside Maximus and stating their intention to board. The pirates claimed to be legitimate businessmen carrying petroleum into port, a statement contradicted by the facts passed to the Nigerians from their neighbors. The Nigerians conducted a non-compliant boarding, apprehended the pirates, and returned Maximus and crew safely to port.
“These stories: the Togo Navy’s piracy rescue and the Nigerian Navy’s rescue of Maximus are just a couple of examples of how far our African partners have advanced their cooperation and capabilities in the past decade. The first was a successful and rapid response to a shipboard report, showcasing the collaboration between the MOCs and the forces responding to calls. The second was a complex, multilateral mission that demonstrated the successful hand-off of a pirate vessel from the U.S. Navy to security forces in Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, respectively. Our Gulf of Guinea partners, through their hard work and perseverance, as well as training by Western and European maritime teams, have increased their maritime domain awareness and ability to share information. They are able to take increasingly more effective actions against security and economic threats, such as piracy and other types of illicit maritime activity. Training, exercises, and operations in the region are paying off.”
Foggo said the shared goals of a secure, stable, and prosperous Africa benefits not only African partners and the U.S., but also the international community. “CNE-A is and will continue working with our allies and partners to support not only the individual countries but also with Africa’s regional initiatives to build their security and law enforcement institutions to counter piracy, illicit drug trafficking, illicit fishing, arms trafficking, and other illegal and illicit activities occurring in African waters. Through continued training and collaboration, there will continue to be steady improvement in security and stability in the region.”