WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2013 – Capacity-building efforts being advanced by U.S. Africa Command are helping African nations confront maritime crime, including piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and events currently unfolding off the Nigerian coast, the Africom commander reported.
In addition, Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez recognized “major progress” in maritime security along Africa’s East Coast during an Oct. 23 virtual news conference.
Incidents off the coast of Somalia, once a hotbed of pirating activity like that dramatized in the blockbuster movie, “Captain Phillips,” have dropped dramatically.
Meanwhile, “maritime crime continues to be a major challenge in the Gulf of Guinea,” Rodriguez reported. Exemplifying this challenge, pirates reportedly kidnapped crew members of a U.S.-flagged oil supply ship off the Nigerian coast Oct. 23.
Rodriguez noted Africom efforts to prevent such incidents and promote maritime safety and security in the region.
“Our programs are helping partners strengthen maritime security and counter illicit trafficking,” he told reporters.
Key among them is Africa Partnership Station, an initiative that has grown over the past six years to include more than 30 African, European and North and South American countries.
More than 90 U.S. Marines as well as Dutch, Spanish and British forces are participating in Africa Station 2013, currently underway off the West African coast. Operating from a Royal Netherlands Navy landing platform, they will visit Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Benin during the three-month mission.
The goal is to improve maritime safety and security along the Gulf of Guinea, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Charles Watkins, security cooperation task force officer in charge for African Partnership Station 13, told American Forces Press Service.
By building capacity among African partner nations, the mission increases their ability to strengthen their borders, control their territorial waters and crack down on illicit trafficking and other destabilizing activity, Watkins said.
Another counterpiracy and maritime security exercise, Exercise Obangame Express 2013, brought together 12 ships from 10 countries off the coast of Cameroon in February to train on a number of maritime scenarios. Planning for the 2014 exercise is underway.
“Obangame Express helps promote relationships between nations to combat these illicit activities,” said Navy Capt. Dave Rollo, U.S. director for Obangame Express 2013. “These acts of piracy are not just an American problem. They are not just a Cameroonian problem. They're a global problem.”
Meanwhile, Africom is promoting other initiatives to increase interoperability among African partners to maximize their maritime security programs, Rodriguez told reporters.
“We’ve … helped build some capacity for some operation centers for several of the nations around the Gulf of Guinea to coordinate their efforts,” he said.
In Cape Verde, northwest of the Gulf of Guinea, an Africom-funded Counter-Narcotics and Maritime Security Operations Center opened in 2010 to help that country’s police, coast guard and military to collaborate more closely to crack down on illicit trafficking, piracy and other transnational threats.
The center features inter-island communications relays that give Cape Verdean government agencies and offices the ability to share information and coordinate their activities against narco-trafficking and other illegal activities.
To complement its operations, the United States also helped Cape Verde upgrade its tiny, four-craft patrol boat fleet and donated another small high-speed vessel.
U.S. and British maritime forces mentored Cape Verdean sailors and coast guard members this spring as they exercised maritime law enforcement engagement procedures in their territorial waters in coordination with the Cape Verde operations center.
“The purpose of these types of military engagements is to help our African partners learn to enforce their international maritime laws at sea,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Adam Chamie, liaison to the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet commander.
“This engagement demonstrated the increasing ability of Cape Verde’s ability to successfully board vessels as needed to enforce those maritime laws,” Chamie said.
While reporting progress in these approaches to maritime security, Rodriguez acknowledged “a lot of challenges out there and a long way to go.”
Continued collaboration is essential to dealing with illicit maritime activity, he emphasized.
“That is a regional problem and a regional challenge that everyone is going to have to work together to solve, because of the challenges that occur in the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.