By Adm. Bruce Clingan
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa
OBANGAME EXPRESS, a U.S. Africa Command-sponsored multinational exercise now in its fourth year, wrapped up today after successfully bringing together 20 maritime partners to enhance tactical naval expertise and cooperation among West and Central African nations. Our African partners chose the name, which means “togetherness” in the Fang language – it certainly reflects our cooperative approach to addressing African maritime security concerns.
As commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Africa, I am delighted with the evolution of this exercise and the impact it is having on ensuring the security of global trade flows in the Gulf of Guinea. Africa Partnership Station (APS), the umbrella program for these exercises, has become a truly international endeavor. As one recent example, the Royal Navy Netherlands ship HNLMS ROTTERDAM (L800) embarked a combined landing force comprised of U.S., Dutch, U.K. and Spanish Marines, and incorporated amphibious landing and tactical training events into a broad program of security enhancement together with Senegal, Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon.
African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP), the operational phase of APS, is another area in which we are seeing success. Just this month, our naval forces teamed with the U.S. Coast Guard and with Ghanaian naval, maritime police and fisheries personnel to conduct AMLEP in Ghana’s territorial waters and economic exclusion zone. Using the U.S. Navy’s joint high-speed vessel SPEARHEAD (JHSV 1) as a command and control platform, the combined U.S.-Ghana boarding team boarded three vessels fishing illegally within Ghanaian waters in a law enforcement effort that could potentially lead to fines of up to $2 million through the Ghanaian judicial system. Better regulations enforcement is a good news story for Ghana and for the region, as such fines can be invested in naval capabilities able to address a broad spectrum of maritime security challenges.
SPEARHEAD’s deployment in theater, the maiden deployment for this ship class, represents the continued U.S. commitment to African maritime security. SPEARHEAD participated in exercise SAHARAN EXPRESS, conducted a bi-lateral crisis response exercise with our Liberian partners, then joined 31 other ships for OBANGAME EXPRESS.
Beyond exercises and AMLEP, our African partners are taking the lead to actively patrol their own waters. Operation PROSPERITY, a combined Benin and Nigeria effort launched in 2011, is a cooperation success story. These two countries often share resources — ships, aerial surveillance, and boarding team members — to disrupt illicit activity in their waters.
My strong desire is to see more of this type of cooperation among partners and to further involve interagency stakeholders to better combat security challenges at sea and ashore. The continued growth and development of our collective maritime security capabilities is truly encouraging – it will help keep the world’s waters ‘open for business,’ leading to a more stable and prosperous region.