* Eight NN, US French warships, tugboats, others deployed
By Evelyn Usman
The Nigerian Navy and four other navies from the United States, United Kingdom, Italy and France, have kicked off the largest annual multinational maritime exercise in West Africa, code named Exercise Obaganme Express, aimed at improving tactical interdiction expertise in the fight against piracy and other maritime illegalities within the Gulf of Guinea, GoG.
Six ships: NNS THUNDER, NGURU,PROSPERITY, KARADUWA, EKULU, ESE; two tugboats( Dolphin Rima and Mira), as well as two Agusta helicopters, a Nigerian Air Force maritime patrol aircraft and detachments of the NN’s Special Boats Services, SBS were deployed by the Nigerian Navy, alongside the French and US warships, to participate in the annual sea excercise initiated by the US, ten years ago.
In order to prevent likely spread of COVID-19, each country is expected to conduct the various forms of excercise in their respective areas and onboard their ships, as against the usual practice.
Flagging off the five days sea exercise onboard NNS Thunder, Saturday, at the Naval Dockyard Limited Victoria Island, Lagos, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, explained that the exercise was aimed at contributing to the freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Guinea , by strengthening coordination in the fight against insecurity for socioeconomic activities among member states to thrive.
He informed that it would also enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to counter sea based illicit activities
According to him:” The exercise was introduced to foster togetherness of regional navies as a result of the huge resources and vast potential being continuously undermined by multifaceted domestic and cross border threats.
” It will present an opportunity for the Nigerian Navy to work together with other navies in the spirit of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct. This code is designed to improve operational readiness, maritime domain awareness, information sharing practices and tactical interdiction expertise.
“It will also enhance the operational capability of the Nigeria Navy in its fight against various forms of maritime crime through information and intelligence sharing”, he said.
In her remark, the US Consul General, Claire Pierangelo, described maritime security, especially in the GoG, as a common interest to all nations, adding that no fewer than 16 countries shared the same waters.
She said, ” Although maritime threats in the GoG have continued to evolve and are increasingly difficult to address, a secure maritime environment is integral to other dimensions of security; it is the backbone of healthy commerce, as it promotes economic development and supports sustainable management of all living and non-living resources on which the entire region relies”.
She stated that the annual sea exercise attested to the strong partnership between the US and Nigeria, pointing out that “executing it despite the COVID-19 restrictions was a true testament to the richness and quality of both countries’ relationship.
“We are encouraged by Nigeria’s progress and investments in maritime security operations; we advocate for Nigeria to lead the way in regional security and we support lit allies in their measure to bolster existing efforts,” Pierangelo stated.
Also in his remark, the Flag Officer Commanding ,FOC Western Command, Rear Admiral Jason Gbassa, said the “exercise comes against the backdrop of piracy cases, illegal fishing, illegal exploration of mineral resources, proliferation of small arms and light weapons and other local and international threats within the gulf.
“Therefore, maintaining Nigeria’s strategic deterrence posture and influence in the maritime environment is critical to our economic prosperity and regional stability.
“The exercise will give additional impetus to our overall operational combatant experiences to ensure that our nation’s territorial integrity is maintained in line with the Nigerian Navy constitutional mandate. It will focus on maritime crime hotspots to improve maritime security operations in the GoG”, he said.
He further stated that the Nigerian Navy’s fleet would conduct exercises with French Navy Ship, Dixmude, in conjunction with other navies that would be participating. Areas of interest according to him, would include ” protection of oil and gas facilities, fleet maneuvers, communication, vessel board search and seizure, medical evacuation, among others”.
The annual sea exercise which is sponsored by the U.S. Africa Command AFRICOM, did not hold last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.