By Philip Nwosu
The Nigerian Navy has deployed six ships, two helicopters and a Nigerian Air Force ATR42 aircraft to participate in the 2021 EXERCISE OBANGAME EXPRESS involving 32 nations.
The participants include: Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Niger, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, 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).
Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, said this during the flag-off of the exercise, is geared towards protecting the maritime environment and securing the Gulf of Guinea against pirates and sea robbers.
Obangame Express 2021, initiated by the United States Naval Forces Africa, is designed to improve regional cooperation in support of the Yaounde Code of Conduct, Maritime Domain Awareness, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of participating nations to counter sea-based crimes
Admiral Gambo said that the multinational maritime exercise was birthed for regional maritime safety and security, adding that the exercise was an annual multinational maritime operation borne out of the need for Gulf of Guinea Navies to work together for regional maritime safety and security.
He said: “This is as a result of the huge resources and vast potential being continuously undermined by multifaceted domestic and cross border threats. “This challenges the dwindling prosperity of member states.”
The CNS said that the exercise would present an ample opportunity for the Nigerian Navy to work together with other national and regional navies in the spirit of the Yaounde Code of Conduct.
“This code is designed to improve operational readiness, maritime domain awareness, information sharing practices and tactical interdiction expertise.
“This will enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to counter sea based illicit activities.
“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.
Gambo said that the sustenance of this exercise was critical to Nigeria’s national interest, given the huge contributions of the nation’s strategic maritime resources to national prosperity and development.
“The exercise aims 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.
“This is in line with the Nigerian Navy mandate and other treaties which Nigeria is a signatory too,” he said.
Earlier, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Command, Rear Admiral Jason Gbassa, said that the exercise was focusing on maritime crime hotspots to improve maritime security operations in the Gulf of Guinea.
“The exercise is an avenue for participating nations within the Gulf of Guinea and its international partners to collaborate toward addressing maritime security concerns toward the gulf.
“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,” he said.
Gbassa said that the fleet which include: NNS THUNDER, PROSPERITY, KARADUWA, NGURU, EKULU, ESE, and Tugboat Dolphin Rima and Tugboat Mira would conduct several antipiracy operation exercises.
“The fleet will conduct several exercises which will also include: protection of oil and gas facilities, fleet maneuvers, communication, vessel board search and rescue among others.
“This exercise will be conducted alongside French Navy Ship, Dixmude, in conjunction with other navies that will be participating.
“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,” he said.
The FOC urged the public, as partners in progress, to be free to divulge credible information to the units in their localities to get rid of all forms of criminality within our space.
Also, the US Consular General, Ms Claire Pierangelo, said that a secured maritime environment is integral to other dimensions of security.
Pierangelo said that maritime threats in the Gulf of Guinea had continued to evolve and were increasingly becoming difficult to address.
“Maritime security is, in fact, the backbone of healthy commerce; it promotes economic development and it supports the sustainable management of all resources on which this entire region depends.
“The exercise is designed to enhance collective capabilities of all participating nations to counter piracy, illegal fishing and other sea based illicit activities.
“The exercise expresses one of the many ways that the United States and likeminded partners ally with Nigeria and the Atlantic Africa to address maritime security,” she said.