The 2019 Operation Obangame Express officially commenced Thursday in Lagos with 20 African nations and 11 allied nations participating in the maritime interdiction exercise.
At the opening ceremony were senior leaders from the US Africa Command and the Nigerian Navy, representatives of maritime forces from the Gulf of Guinea, Europe, North and South America, as well as regional and international organisations.
Now in its ninth year, Obangame, a Fang language of southern Cameroon, which means “togetherness,” is an annual multinational maritime exercise designed to improve cooperation among the participating nations in order to increase maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
The Chief of the Naval Staff, Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, who hosted the exercise, said regional joint patrols was very important for governments of countries around the GoG because of the enormous maritime resources with prospects for lasting solution to economic and developmental aspirations of African states.
According to Ibas, the region was frequently being challenged by multifaceted and evolving maritime threats leading to unpredictable threat-levels and deepening conditions inimical to peace and security.
Of particular concern, Ibas said, was the realisation that many of the threats posed great danger to effective exploitation of the maritime environment and increasingly manifest as transnational and cross-border crimes, hence, the need for a united response by regional navies and coastguards.
He said: “This esteemed assembly is no doubt fully abreast of the gains of the African Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS) 2050 and the Yaoundé Code of Conduct of 2013, which have facilitated capacity building within a defined architecture for regional maritime security Operations.
“These instruments have also emplaced standards for inter-regional co-operation based on law enforcement at sea, information sharing and training, further enhancing multilateral collaboration in the GoG.
“This is the spirit that birthed the OBANGAME EXPRESS as a tool for enhancing the collective capabilities of GoG countries to counter sea-based illicit activities by improving regional cooperation.”
Delivering the welcome remarks, United States Consul General, John Bray noted that Obangame Express has grown in leaps and bounds, both in complexity and in accomplishment.
He said: “We note the efforts by regional navies to work together in the spirit of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct which is designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to counter sea-based illicit activity.”
As part of the events to open the 2019 Obangame Express, Bray and Ibas commissioned the Nigerian Navy’s Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Training School in Apapa. The training school was built by the Nigerian Navy and equipped by the United States Navy.
“The Maritime Domain Awareness Training School in Apapa is one of the most evident examples of our enduring partnership. This school will be a regional center of excellence in the area of maritime domain awareness where neighboring countries will be trained,” Bray added.
In her remarks, Director, Directorate of Intelligence, U.S. Africa Command, Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, lauded the commitment of the 33 nations scheduled to participate in this year’s exercise.
According to her, illicit maritime activities such as illegal fishing, trafficking of weapons, narcotics and people, as well as the ongoing threat of piracy, undermine the rule of law, food security, and economic development in the region.
“This exercise is a clear demonstration of the United States’ dedication to combat these illicit activities and help our partners in the Gulf of Guinea to provide security for their resources, their economy, and their people. Obangame Express 2019 will make the region a safe place for maritime commerce and ultimately help increase prosperity of the region,” Berg said.