By Adm. Mark Ferguson
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa
Earlier this week, and prior to the start of the International Seapower Symposium, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus hosted a seminar on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. The seminar brought together key regional and international stakeholders to build a common understanding of the challenges we face in the maritime domain, and outline the steps for coherent, effective action to overcome them.
The Gulf of Guinea is important, not only for Africa, but for the global economy. It is the western door to Africa with six coastal capital cities, eight coastal economic centers, and ten deep water ports. West African nations that border the gulf possess a wealth of natural resources and human capital which, if managed prudently, could make the region a powerful force for African growth and development, and a significant influence in global affairs.
However, these same sources for wealth are also sources for instability and conflict as smugglers, traffickers, and extremist organizations compete with national and international commercial interests for access and control.
Many Gulf of Guinea nations have difficulty fielding effective security capacity and are struggling to combat terrorism, crime, trafficking, and illegal resource extraction in the form of oil bunkering and poaching, but the good news is that they are making progress. Nigeria is best-equipped to emerge as a regional leader with its large, well-performing economy and robust military. However, no country has proven itself completely capable of overcoming these challenges alone.
So how do we approach such complex, evolving problems in a region that is home for some of the most densely populated yet underdeveloped nations in the world?
First, we accept that West African nations will require assistance from partner nations, and then we work together to develop a common understanding of the problem set. This is what Secretary Mabus has done for maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, and his efforts are producing tangible results.
Since we have recognized the importance of this region to the future of Africa, the U.S. Navy has taken a leading role in working with our West African partners by committing resources, expertise, and technology to improve maritime domain awareness through information sharing, exercises, connectivity, and joint patrols such as Operation Prosperity. We have already seen how joint patrols and coordinated responses across Economic Exclusion Zones make a difference. We see less smuggling and poaching during maritime exercises, law enforcement operations, and joint patrols. The commitment and combined efforts of both regional and international partners achieved those results, and our team at U.S. Naval Forces Africa will continue to play an important role assisting and advising our African counterparts to ensure maritime security in the region.
We have already established a foundation of cooperation through Africa Partnership Station (APS). APS is a series of activities designed to build maritime safety and security in Africa by working together with African and other international partners. It began in 2006 during a series of maritime conferences in West and Central Africa when African leaders stated their desire to improve the ability of African countries to govern their waters and create a stable maritime environment. To date, U.S. Navy personnel supporting APS have trained thousands of military personnel in skills such as seamanship, search and rescue operations, law enforcement, medical readiness, environmental stewardship and small boat maintenance. But there is still work to be done and we have planned some important milestone events for 2015 to help keep our efforts on track.
First, in addition to ongoing APS activities, U.S. Naval Forces Africa will host a Combined Force Maritime Component Commander seminar at our headquarters in Naples, Italy in the spring 2015 timeframe. The CFMCC course will feature a rigorous series of instruction focused on command and control at the operational level, and be an opportunity for Naval Leaders from the Gulf of Guinea region to tour the U.S. 6th Fleet Maritime Operations Center and observe firsthand how we connect, share information, and maintain a common picture of the maritime environment.
Second, U.S. Africa Command will sponsor another iteration of OBANGAME EXPRESS, also in the spring of 2015, which will be another opportunity to develop regional maritime security efforts and strengthen the coordination between regional Maritime Operations Centers and our own 6th Fleet Maritime Operations Center.
Third, we will have an opportunity to meet again at next year’s International Seapower Symposium to review and, if necessary, adjust our course of action.
This week’s Gulf of Guinea Seminar was the first of these important milestone events for achieving maritime security in the region. I commend Secretary Mabus for his vision and leadership, and thank those who participated.
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