The United States and Nigeria have stepped up efforts to curb illicit maritime activities including piracy in the Gulf of Guinea with the ongoing 2019 Obangame Express in Lagos.
The International Maritime Bureau, in its global piracy report released in January, said it recorded a “marked rise in attacks against ships and crews around West Africa”, describing the Gulf of Guinea as “particularly dangerous for seafarers.”
“In a worrisome trend, this violence accelerated in the last quarter of the year. 41 kidnappings were recorded off Nigeria between October and December, more than half the annual total,” it added.
Senior leaders from the United States 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, converged on Lagos last Thursday for the opening ceremony of the Obangame Express.
Now in its ninth year, Obangame Express 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.
Obangame Express is part of a comprehensive strategy by the US Africa Command and US Naval Forces Europe-Africa to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners that address maritime security concerns, according to a statement.
The Nigerian Navy is hosting the 2019 exercise from March 14 to 22.
As part of the events to open the 2019 Obangame Express, the US Consul General, John Bray, and Nigeria’s Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, inaugurated the Nigerian Navy’s Maritime Domain Awareness Training School in Apapa.
The training school was built by the Nigerian Navy and equipped by the US Navy, according to the statement.
Bray noted that the Obangame Exercise had grown in leaps and bounds, both in complexity and in accomplishment.
“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 the Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to
counter sea-based illicit activity,” he said.
He described the Maritime Domain Awareness Training School as one of the most evident examples of the enduring partnership.
“This school will be a regional centre of excellence in the area of maritime domain awareness where neighbouring countries will be trained,” Bray added.
The Director, Directorate of Intelligence, US 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.
She said, “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
the prosperity of the region.”