The United States Navy and 33 other countries recently carried out weeks of maritime training in the Gulf of Guinea, to improve safety against pirates and to improve the monitoring of the West Africa coastline.
The Obangame Express training exercise, in its ninth year, this year included 2,500 personnel, 95 ships and 12 aircraft, with the participation of countries in West Africa, Europe and North America.
“In West Africa the Gulf of Guinea is crucial to economic development because economic prosperity is tied to the maritime domain,” said Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples. “This requires that the maritime countries of this region have strong, professional military and law enforcement institutions that can provide the setting for maritime trade to flourish.”
Currently the Gulf of Guinea “is vulnerable to illegal activities within territorial waters, all of which degrades the ability for regional and global trade to occur freely and benefit the region,” said Foggo.
Not all countries have large ships, he said, so vessels are shared in the Gulf of Guinea.
Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff, said that countries in the region are challenged to be aware of what needs to be done to protect their coastlines and sea areas.
There are “issues of the various navies not having adequate platform and not having adequate infrastructure to support even the operational fleet in terms of capacity to even deploy … We also have problems with language,” he said, noting that English, French, Portuguese and Spanish are all used in the region.
In the last six years, Nigeria has been able to buy more ships to improve its abilities at sea, he said, adding that more than 75 percent of attempted “mischief” at sea has been foiled in recent times, referring to piracy and the hijacking of vessels.
Training, logisitics and government support will remain crucial, he said, in maintaining the security of the gulf.
Petesch reported from Chicago.