L-R: Commodore Leonard Iwuoha, Commodore Andrew Da Costa, Soucie, Ikioda and Babalola with other senior officers at the Western Naval Command in Lagos, recently
To boost maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea as well as build capacity for personnel, the Nigerian Navy has partnered its United States’ counterpart under the African Partnership Station (APS) initiative, writes Chiemelie Ezeobi
It is no gainsaying that piracy has become a serious menace that has beguiled the country’s waterways as corroborated by the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) global report, which lamented the alarming increase of these scourge. Not surprising, the menace has adversely affected the economic gains of many countries.
Therefore, to checkmate this burgeoning influx of piracy and sea robbery especially in the Gulf of Guinea, the African Partnership Station (APS) kicked off operations in November 2007. Having adopted attack as the best form of defence, the APS has been giving the pirates a run for their money.
The APS is an international initiative developed by United States Naval Forces Europe-Africa, which works cooperatively with US and international partners to improve maritime safety and security in Africa as part of US Africa Command’s Security Cooperation program.
A strategic programme designed to build skills, expertise and professionalism of African militaries, coast guards and mariners, the APS according to design consist of joint exercises, port visits, hands-on practical courses, professional training and community outreach with the coastal nations of Africa.
Although the overall focus is to build the maritime capacity of African nations and increase the level of cooperation between them which would bear on improvement of security and safety, it also aims to improve the ability of the nations involved to extend the rule of law within their territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Also, it aims to better combat illegal fishing, human smuggling, drug trafficking, oil theft and piracy.
Unarguably, capacity building has often been touted as the brain behind performance of personnel. Accordingly, to meet up with contemporary challenges, the Nigerian Navy (NN), has always sought ways to train and re-train its officers and men.
Their quest to build on past achievements probably stems from its vision to “emplace a Navy that is adequately motivated and capable of effectively combating the security challenges in Nigeria’s maritime domain and in the West African Sub-region to enhance the well-being of the Nigerian people.”
One of such avenues was the APS which the NN has been a staunch partner. Accordingly, as part of collaborative efforts to boost maritime security especially in the Gulf of Guinea, the United States Navy war Ship, HSV2 SWIFT, with its ship’s company recently, paid a port of call visit to the Nigerian Navy in Lagos.
Although the initiative also strengthened bi-lateral relationship between both countries, it also served as an avenue for capacity building for the officers and men of the NN. It would be recalled that earlier in the year, the American Coast Guard; USS Simpson (FFG56) and French Navy; Siroco, berthed in Nigeria for a three-day training of the officers of the NN on strategies to secure the nation’s numerous waterways. Led by the Commander Task Force 63 US Navy, Commodore Richard Soucie, the US Navy Ship was berthed in Nigeria to fulfill the APS initiative, a joint African maritime security body.
While briefing journalists at the headquarters of the Western Naval Command (WNC), Apapa, Lagos, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Rear Admiral Ameen Ikioda, lauded the collaboration.
He said: “We are happy with the collaboration as we are all working together especially at the Gulf of Guinea to make sure that our seas are safe and secure. We also appreciate the American government for their continuous collaborations with the NN of which this port call by USS SWITF 2 is one. “The association between NN and the American Navy has been very beneficial to us. However, we need to have total coverage of our maritime domain so that we have total control of the areas and make it impregnable to sea robbers and other maritime criminals.”
Soucie said the lessons learnt from Somalia and other hot beds in Africa on piracy and sea robbery has necessitated the assistance of the American government.
While lauding the efforts of the Nigerian Navy at combating sea miscreants, he maintained that the coming of the American warship was a fall-out of the need to protect the maritime domain.
He said: “We are here to train Nigerian Navy on port security measures, counter piracy and capacity building. It is a fact that about 90 per cent of economic activities are carried out through the sea. So, it iscthe West African coast if free of pirates and other sea criminals.
“He said: “The US HSV 2 SWIFT is here as the cornerstone of USA Naval APS nation in which we are visiting countries in African continent to conduct various security cooperation engagements.
“As you are all aware, 90 to 95 per cent of the world commerce travels via the sea, so we are working together to keep the sea lane open and safer. This is not just Nigeria or the United States, but we see it as very vital to keep the trade raft open across the globe.”
He noted that the training was not for the NN alone but for the navies of the African continent, particularly the West African region, pointing out that the lessons learnt from Somalia and other hot beds in Africa on piracy and sea robberies necessitated the assistance of the American government to train the region’s navies with a view to warding off such economic saboteurs.
However, beside the military aspect of their visit, the team came loaded with materials for the less privileged. Also, health and optometry services were rendered to by the NN and US medical team at both the Oba of Lagos Palace and at Tamoro Island.
Corroborating, the Command Operation Officer (COO) of the WNC, Commodore Henry Babalola, said visits of this nature afford navies of the world to strengthen their foreign relations and to achieve foreign policy objectives. He said: “We are delighted to have a foreign naval ship visiting from no less than a nation than the USA considering their very towering image in the comity of nations.
“The NN is a developing navy so we hope to maximize every aspect of this training. The visit of HSV 2 SWIFT to Nigeria as part of the littoral states will further increase the awareness of the importance of the sea to littoral nations.
Continuing he said, “Our unified goal is to have a safe maritime environment because it is very sad when our seas are compared to that of Somalia. Other African countries regard our navy as the best in the region so it’s our responsibility to live up to that image.
“Part of the training looked at port security assessment methodology. Due to the present security challenges, especially in the northern part of the country, as the leader of the delegation said, about 90 to 95 per cent of commerce travels through the sea, we should know that definitely small arms trafficking are coming in through the sea.”
“We hope that at the end of this visit, we would be better positioned to man our ports especially in the area of access control, drug trafficking, small arms trafficking and others.”
Babalola also disclosed that Hydrograghy was part of the training, adding that it is very vital to the NN. “The training further sharpened our skills especially for the basic infantry leadership training, which we are very much interested in.
“Of late, the NN is living her primary role in the sea to engage in other internal security operations. Right now, we have our men carrying out various operations in Jos, Maiduguri, Nigeria/Niger border; these are very alien infantry role.
We hope this visit and training would shed more light as we prepare naval contingent for this operations adequately to surmount this alien roles. For the command and control and maritime domain course, we also hope that they will improve our skills,” he added.