….Exercise will enhance AfCFTA growth, blue economy – Naval Chief
Nine warships, 15 aircrafts including a United States patrol aircraft and 450 participants have been deployed to participate in the 2023 Exercise Obangame Express involving 32 nations.
Exercise Obangame, established in 2010 and sponsored by the United States Africa Command, is an annual multinational maritime exercise, which was conceptualized on the need for Gulf of Guinea navies and coastguards to bolster cooperation for regional maritime safety and security in furtherance of the Yaounde Code of Conduct.
The Nigerian Navy, which is hosting this year’s exercise taking place across five zones in the Southern Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea- stretching from the West African Island of Cabo Verde to the Central African shores of Angola on its part has deployed 9 ships, 8 boats, 2 helicopters and maritime domain awareness assets as well as elements of the Special Boat Services to participate in the exercise.
Speaking at the flag off of the exercise which held at the Naval Dock Yard in Lagos on Friday, Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Auwal Gambo, said the exercise is designed to improve regional collaboration through joint operations, intelligence sharing and harmonized legal frameworks to enhance collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea nations against maritime crimes.
He added that the exercise would enhance the growth of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which has potentials to boost Intra-African trade by 33 per cent and cut the continent’s trade deficit by 51 per cent.
“This year’s exercise is particularly instructive considering effort of the African Union at establishing and operationalizing regional taskforces. This will no doubt enhance the African Continental Free Trade Agreement as well as development of sustainable Blue Economy.
“According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the African Continental Free Trade Area has potentials to boost Intra-African trade by 33 per cent and cut the continent’s trade deficit by 51 per cent. Notably, the maritime industry and the shipping sector in particular constitute a critical driver in implementation of the ideals of African Continental Free Trade Agreement,” he said.
The Naval Chief said that the Gulf of Guinea countries are already working towards the establishment of a Maritime Taskforce to further facilitate security and enhance international commerce where the Nigerian Navy is expected to play a lead role.
“Accordingly, Exercise Obangame Express 2023 presents another opportunity for the Nigerian Navy to work together with regional and friendly foreign navies in the spirit of the Yaoundé Accord,” he said.
Gambo noted that Obangame Express had since its inception in 2010 with just 9 participating nations grown in both complexity and in accomplishment.
“Obangame Express has moved to decentralized events with about 28 participating nations and over 100 individually evaluated events. The Nigerian Navy will be deploying 9 ships, 2 helicopters and maritime domain awareness assets as well as elements of the Special Boat Services for this year’s edition,” he said.
Following delisting of Nigeria from the list of piracy prone countries by the International Maritime Bureau since the 3rd of March 2022, Gambo said the Nigerian Navy has sustained zero piracy attack within Nigerian waters till date, an achievement he attributed to the sustained presence of Nigerian Navy ships at sea, increased regional and international synergy as well as maritime domain awareness as facilitated by exercises such as Obangame.
He expressed appreciation to the United States Government through the United States Africa Command and other international partners for facilitating and sustaining the exercise over the years as well as providing technical support for regional awareness capability.
In his remarks, Commander, US Sixth Fleet, Vice Admiral Thomas Ishee, said nine ships, 15 aircrafts, 450 participants and 250 personnel from 32 participating countries would man the maritime operations across the five zones where the exercise would take place.
He said the exercise would improve search and rescue and the Gulf of Guinea nations ability to fight piracy, illegal fishing, trafficking and oil bunkering.
Ishee said only Africa nations could solve the continent’s problems, adding that the exercise is an opportunity to build partnerships and improve collective capabilities to combat criminal activities that threatens regional development efforts.
“Illicit maritime activity threatens regional development efforts, weakens state security, and robs our African partners of the precious resources upon which they rely for economic growth and effective governance.
“The exercise is an opportunity for like-minded partners to work together to develop African-led solutions to shared transnational challenges and promote global security.
“Nigeria, Obangame Express 2023’s host, is an important partner of the United States in promoting a peaceful, well-policed Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria also maintains the largest navy in the Gulf of Guinea region and is critical to security and stability in Africa,” he said.
US’ Consul General, Will Stevens, however, said that the world was in need of an African solution to global challenges, as he noted that piracy and other organized crimes is not only peculiar to Africa but has become a global problem.
Earlier in his welcome address, Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral YB Wambai, said Exercise Obangame Express presents ‘another opportunity for the Nigerian Navy to exercise its fleet with other navies and coast guards in the sub-region as well as navies of our international collaborators in line with the Yaoundé Architecture Accord’.
Wambai, who is also the Officer Conducting Exercise (OCE) informed that the exercise which will be conducted for 7 days commencing from 27 January 2023 to 3 February 2023 would involve activities such as anti-human trafficking, drills on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, illegal oil bunkering, various gunnery and communication exercises, fleet manoeuvres, simulate firefighting and flooding exercise
He added that the Task Group will conduct anti-arms and anti-drugs smuggling, anti-piracy exercise in conjunction with other navies in Zone E.
Wambai expressed optimism that cooperation, collaboration and information sharing capabilities as well as coordination towards achieving safe and secured maritime environment would be enhanced at the end of the exercise.
The 32 nations participating in this year’s edition of the Obangame Express include: Angola, Benin Republic, Brazil, Cameroun, Canada, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon.
Others are Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, the host country, Niger, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo and the United States
Also participating is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
Present at the flag-off ceremony was the Foreign Affairs Minister, Godfery Onyema, among other top government functionaries and foreign guests.
L-R: Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Auwal Gambo; Commander, US Sixth Fleet, Vice Admiral Thomas Ishee; and US’ Consul General, Will Stevens; at the flag off ceremony of Exercise Obangame Express 2023 held at the Naval Dockyard in Lagos on Friday.