Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ola Ibrahim
From Jude Okwe in Calabar with agency reports
Nigeria and 10 other countries including the United States (US), Belgium, and Spain yesterday in Calabar, Cross River State, began a naval exercise to fight piracy, oil theft, smuggling and other maritime security challenges.
However, Nigeria said oil theft, piracy and other criminal activities bordering on economic sabotage had been on the decline in the Gulf of Guinea, following effective policing of the area by officers and men of the Nigerian Navy, in collaboration with the navy of other West and Central African countries.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the maneuvres were holding on the West and Central African waters, especially the Gulf of Guinea.
Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Ola Ibrahim, said at the ceremony that the exercise currently hosted by Nigeria in the Calabar waters was code-named Exercise Obangame Express 2012.
He spoke at a “pre-sail conference” to flag-off the exercise at the Command Officers Mess, Eastern Naval Command, Calabar.
He said warships from the 11 countries participating in the week-long exercise arrived in the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command on February 26.
“Littoral states rely on the global maritime environment for trade and commerce. However, in recent times, the Gulf of Guinea (GOG) maritime environment is increasingly threatened by a myriad of security challenges such as piracy, smuggling, oil theft and trafficking in humans and small arms and drugs,” he said.
Ibrahim, who was represented by Rear Admiral James Oladimeji, also welcomed the participants and hoped the exercise wouldabout the much needed cooperation amongst the navies involved.
He said the exercise would ensure that the Nigerian Navy and its ships were battle-ready for the exercise.
In his address, the Flag Officer Commanding the Eastern Naval Command, Rear-Admiral Usman Jibrin, said it was heart warming to have the participants in Nigeria.
He said the exercise would afford the participating countries the opportunity to share information, refine tactics, techniques and procedures in combating maritime security challenges.
“The Obangame Express will provide an excellent opportunity for navies in the Gulf of Guinea to enhance their ability to work together to deter crimes at sea,” he said.
He said the exercise is designed to promote the inter-interoperability and proficiency of the regional maritime stakeholders.
This he said was in concert with the US and European partners to counter piracy and illicit activities in the Gulf of Guinea.
He said the US Navy's African Partnership Station, organised series of multinational maritime security exercises annually to assist in preparing them in confronting those challenges.
He said the partnership was conceived in line with the notion that no nation can fight the sea-based crimes alone.
“Littoral states rely on the global maritime environment for trade and commerce. However, in recent times, the Gulf of Guinea (GOG) maritime environment is increasingly threatened by a myriad of security challenges such as piracy, poaching, smuggling, oil theft and trafficking in humans, small arms and drugs.
“The need for a safe, secure and conducive maritime environment can, therefore, not be over-emphasised.
“This has necessitated practical steps to be taken by GOG countries to enhance their level of maritime domain awareness (MDA) and synergise their efforts to combat these sea-based crimes,'' he further stated.
Jibrin said the exercise would be conducted ashore primarily in the operations centre of the Eastern Naval Command and two other distinct locations in the Gulf of Guinea.
Leader of the US Navy team, Captain David Rollo, who is also the Maritime Affairs Officer, said the coming together of the different navies would afford them opportunity to benefit from each other’s technical and technological experience. Rollo said the major challenge during the exercise would be cultural and language barriers.
NAN further reported that other navies taking part in the exercise are Cameroun, Gabon, Ghana, Republic of Congo, Benin Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, as well as Togo.
Oil theft, piracy and other criminal activities bordering on economic sabotage are on the decline in the Gulf of Guinea following effective policing of the area by officers and men of the Nigerian Navy, in collaboration with the navy of other West and Central African countries.