By Alfred Koroma
The Sierra Leone Maritime Administration has recently participated in the Obangame Expresss 20 23 ((OE23).
OE23 is the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western and Central Africa designed to improve regional cooperation, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of participating nations to counter Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing and other sea-based illicit activity.
It is an exercise conducted by the U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) and sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).
Nigeria hosted the event in which Sierra Leone and other nations participated at the Nigerian Navy’s Admiralty Conference Center where U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Kirk Smith, deputy commander at U.S. Africa Command, and Nigerian Navy Vice Adm. Awwal Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff delivered statements.
In his statement, the U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen., Kirk Smith described the exercise as a great example of multiple partners coming together and understanding shared challenges, and shared opportunities. He said precision is what makes the participating members perfect and attention to every little detail is what makes them professional. The most important part is what we learn from the exercise to make us better for the next time that we come together, Smith said.
“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success,” Nigerian Navy Vice Adm. Awwal Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff reechoed. “These are powerful testimonies of steadfast commitment… enhancing maritime security across the board. In particular, these efforts are facilitated into the integration of Obangame, national capabilities of navies, and coastguards in achieving holistic and sustainable maritime security attention in the Gulf of Guinea.”
Gambo said the importance of the exercise, and how continued practice and improvement on maritime challenges improves the security and stability of the nations involved.
Sierra Leone and Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, France, Gabon, The Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Spain, Togo, and the United States are among the participating nations of OE23 together with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
This year’s Obangame Expresss involved a roster of events. Ashore, armed forces from the Benin, Nigeria, Togo, and the U.S., alongside international law enforcement agencies, conducted expertise exchanges on forensics collection, combat defensive tactics, first aid at the JMSTC. At the Lagos-area Maritime Operations Center, a multi-national team exchanged lessons on the monitoring and reporting of suspicious vessels at sea, and the communication network of maritime assets against transnational threats.
At sea, the participants conducted training in countering the trafficking of persons, narcotics, illegal fishing, and piracy, as well as Visit, Board, Search and Seizure simulations while maintaining communication and working in concert with partner and allied ships.
The operational training exercise featured developments with the Women, Peace and Security initiative, and multiple concerts by the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) Band. Notably, the NAVEUR-NAVAF Band was hosted by Chief Dr. Nike Davies-Okundaye, an internationally-acclaimed Nigerian artist, Channels TV, an internationally-syndicated news program, and the University of Lagos.
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has fostered relationships with allies and partners for over 80 years, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
NAVEUR-NAVAF which operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility is headquartered in Naples, Italy. The U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.