The 2019 ‘Exercise Obangame Express’ which featured the Nigerian Navy and navies from 33 countries across the world, witnessed the conduct of 85 different strategic maritime anti-piracy, anti-bunkering as well as several other counter simulation scenarios to tackle seaward crimes in the Gulf of Guinea.
Making the disclosure at the Nigerian Naval Dockyard, Lagos, the Commander of the United States Naval Forces Africa (US NAVAF), Admiral James Foggo noted that the exercise which involved the deployment of 95 ships and patrol crafts 12 aircraft and 2,500 naval participants and coastguards in the Gulf of Guinea was a success.
The US Admiral however pointed out that the 2019 Obangame Express exercise was the most difficult sea exercise so far especially with the deployment of sniffer dogs, specially trained to detect drugs haulage onboard ships.
Admiral Foggo also disclosed that for the first time, the exercise made use of a Maritime Domain Awareness Centre of the Nigerian Navy.
His words, “I have served in the headquarters of the African Partnership Station since 2010 and when we started, we did not have maritime operational centres; we did not have the Yaounde Code of Conduct in the maritime domain of the Gulf of Guinea.
“Now, countries collaborate better than they did in 2010 because of relationships built as a result of Obangame Express held every year.
“This year was even more difficult. We had sniffer dogs for anti-drug trafficking simulations. We had Special Boats Services (SBS) from the Nigerian Navy. For the first time, we had the Maritime Domain Awareness Centre as part of the exercise.
“We are enthusiastic about successes recorded in the past nine years as we look forward to the 10th year. I give this year’s exercise an A+.
“Firstly, we had 33 countries, 2500 participants from navies and coastguards from GoG nations, Europe, Cape Verde and North America all coming to participate in maritime domain security.
“In the last couple of weeks, we have had 85 series of exercises, 95 ships some big as NNS THUNDER and others as small as patrol crafts.
“We had 12 aircrafts participating and providing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR).
“We did so many exercises, some started off slow and easy till it got very hard like vertical assault at sea: that is training with risk. We will take the lessons learnt and implement in the next one,” he said.
In his comments, Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas said, “Within the past three years, over 80 errant vessels have been arrested for various acts of illegality. MT TECNE and MT NIPAL were caught in the act stealing crude oil loading facilities in 2017 and 2018 respectively”.
While noting that the arrests have served as deterrence and helped to support the smooth operations economic platforms in the maritime economy, the CNS said the sea exercise was organised to foster regional cooperation and information sharing amongst the GOG navies and other friendly navies towards tackling cross border banditry and other maritime criminality.
Ibas said, “With the benefit of this exercise now, which has further sharpened our skills, we look forward to even greater achievement over the past efforts.
“The exercise aimed at working out each participating country’s capabilities in maritime domain awareness, implementation of regional maritime agreements and interoperability of African, European, Atlantic, and US militaries and agencies towards improving maritime safety and security in the GoG.
“It also created a platform for the navy to practice the operationalization of the Harmonized Standard Operation Procedures for arrest, detention and prosecution of criminal vessel in our waters.
The Minister of Defence, Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali who declared the exercise closed, stated that maritime illegalities constituted serious challenges to the development of the countries in the region.
Represented by Director Navy in the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Patrick Ekawu, the minister said these illegalities had evolved beyond the scope and capability of individual nations to tackle, hence the need for joint efforts.
“The scourge of various forms of illegalities such as sea robbery, piracy, crude oil theft, poaching human and illicit trafficking of weapons and drugs among others constitute serious challenges to the development of the countries in our region”, he said.
Dan Ali added,“One commonality amongst these maritime threats is that they have become transnational and have evolved beyond the scope and capability of one nation to combat”.
“For most of the Gulf of Guinea Navies and Coast Guards therefore, one of the major implications of the emerging security equation is the increasing demand for maritime policing functions”.
Commodore Suleiman Dahun,
Director, Naval Information,