By Evelyn Usman
The annual multinational maritime security exercise code-named Obaganme Express, kicked off in Lagos on Friday, with nine warships, and 15 aircraft including the United States of America Coast Guard, deployed to the Gulf of Guinea, with a view to building the capacity of navies and Coast Guards towards maintaining maritime domain awareness there.
The one-week Military exercise which is organised under the auspices of the United States Africa Command, had 32 countries participating.
Speaking at the flag-off ceremony held onboard the NNS KADA at the Naval Dockyard, Victoria Island, the Commandant, US 6th Fleet, Vice Admiral Edward Ishee, said 450 participants comprising sailors, Coat Guards, aviators and Military personnel would be on board the ship and planes, transiting within the zones during the period, to maintain maritime security.
Also, 250 personnel according to him, would man the maritime operations.
He explained that “Obaganmen means togetherness which is very appropriate for this exercise. The exercise will assist nations to police their own waters, it will improve search and rescue and it will also continue to improve the Guff of Guinea nations’ ability to tackle piracy, illegal fishing, and trafficking in human and oil bunkering.
” By participating in Obaganmen Express, we will continue to build partnerships and capability to tackle maritime criminalities that threatened the Gulf of Guinea”.
In his remark, the US Consul General, Will Stevens, pointed out that Africa’s maritime problem was not exclusively Africans but the entire globe’s and that when collectively
tackled, other nations of the world would reap the benefits.
“Maritime security is not a one-nation obligation. Military exercises such as Obangame Express are part of a long-standing comprehensive strategy by the U.S. government to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners that address maritime security concerns such as trafficking in persons, narcotics, illegal fishing, and piracy,” said Stevens.
Also in his remarks, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, recalled how about five decades ago, Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean became a global challenge that forced navies of the world to move naval assets there to address the challenge.
He said all of a sudden, the Gulf of Guinea became a black spot and a global challenge as pirates shifted attention there.
” And of course the impact it has on a country’s economy and the countries in the Gulf of Guinea is enormous: the insurance premium for ships that have to come to this part of the world and of course it has a lot of effects on the economy of a country”, Onyeama stated.
But he expressed delight at the Nigerian Navy’s ability to checkmate the activities of pirates in that corridor.
He said, _But we are extremely delighted to hear that from becoming a real global black spot, the Gulf of Guinea is virtually zero piracy. This is a really huge achievement under the watch of the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, who is not resting on his oars. Having exercise like this will help maintain the capacity of the Nigerian Navy and level of preparedness “.
In his flag-off speech, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, disclosed that being the host of this year’s exercise, the Nigerian Navy would be deploying nine ships, two helicopters and maritime domain awareness assets as well as elements of the Special Boat Services for the exercise.
He explained that the exercise was conceptualised on the need for Gulf of Guinea navies and Coastguards to bolster cooperation for regional maritime safety and security in furtherance of the Yaounde Code of Conduct.
The Exercise which is in its 13th year according to him had grown both in complexity and in accomplishment, from its inception in 2010, with just nine participating nations in a centralized exercise, to decentralized events with about 28 participating nations and over 100 individually evaluated events.
He said: “This year’s exercise is the particularly instructive considering effort of the African Union at establishing and operationalizing regional taskforces. This will no doubt enhance the African Continental Free Trade Agreement as well as the development of a sustainable Blue Economy. According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the African Continental Free Trade Area has the potential to boost Intra-African trade by 33 per cent and cut the continent’s trade deficit by 51 per cent.
“Notably, the maritime industry and the shipping sector in particular constitute a critical driver in the implementation of the ideals of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Gleaning from the foregoing, the Gulf of Guinea countries are already collaborating for the establishment of a Maritime Taskforce to further facilitate security and enhance international commerce. It is thus, envisaged that Nigeria and indeed the Nigerian Navy would provide a lead role in this regard. “Accordingly, Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS 2023 presents another opportunity for the Nigerian Navy to work together with regional and friendly foreign navies in the spirit of the Yaoundé Accord”
To consolidate on the gains of last year’s Exercise, the CNS said, “I am aware that the United States Coast Guard Ship SPENCER and Spanish Navy Maritime Offshore Patrol Vessel MV AUDAZ would be participating in this year’s Exercise in Maritime Zone E.
“This development again underscores the importance of Exercise OBANGAME particularly in building requisite human capacity that would foster better understanding and burden sharing, especially in a fast-changing operating environment.
” I am optimistic that the Exercise would positively impact on the Nigerian Navy’s readiness for combat operation through training while exposing other maritime-related agencies to benefits of inter-agency cooperation as well as international collaboration.”, Gambo stated.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Yakubu Wambai, said during the seven days duration of the exercise, the Task Group would be exercised on anti-human trafficking on Day one and drills on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and illegal oil bunkering on Day two.
Accordingly, he said Day three would witness various gunnery and communication exercises while the whole fleet would conduct fleet manoeuvres and thereafter simulate firefighting and flooding exercises on Day four.
” Additionally, the Task Group will conduct anti-arms and anti-drugs smuggling on Day five and thereafter, conduct the anti-piracy exercise in conjunction with other navies in Zone E on Day six. On Day seven, all the participating ships shall return to the harbour for debriefing.
” All the exercises have been carefully planned and will be conducted in line with best practices. Therefore, the Task Group will embark on the selected staff of the Ministry of Justice, the Fishery Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, Immigration, Customs and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, to witness the conduct of the exercises.
“It is expected that cooperation, collaboration and information sharing capabilities, as well as coordination towards achieving a safe and secured maritime environment, would be enhanced at the end of the Exercise”.
The 33 nations participating in Obaganme Express 2023 included: Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, France, Gabon, The Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, and the United States.
Also participating will be the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS and the Economic Community of Central African States ECCAS.
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