This year’s edition of Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS has come to a successful end on Saturday, 27 March 20201.
The multinational maritime exercise which was hosted by the Ghana Navy in partnership with the United States Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) comprised of participants from 32 nations from West Africa, Central Africa, the United States, Euro-Atlantic as well as local and international maritime partners and other stakeholders.
The fourteen-day exercise was aimed at improving Regional Corporation, Maritime Domain Awareness, and Information Sharing with practical exercises to enhance the collective capabilities of participating nations to counter sea-based illegal activities.
In his welcome remarks, the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Rear Admiral Issah Yakubu expressed gratitude to the United States government and the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) for their immense support in making OE 21 possible. He noted that, the Exercise seeks to bring together Navies in the sub-region and beyond as well as offer the opportunity to share information and ideas that would help in keeping a safe maritime space.
According to the CNS, the Exercise would further give participants the forum to exercise and validate combined doctrine and standard operating procedures to deal with the challenges in the maritime domain in order to maintain a safe and secured maritime environment for socio-economic development.
In a speech made by the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), Vice Admiral Seth Amoama on behalf of the Defence Minister, Hon Dominic Nitiwul he expressed his delight about the participation of some international organisations like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), INTERPOL and the United Nations on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The CDS further emphasised that, crime and insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, drug trafficking, smuggling of merchandise and weapons, human trafficking among others, were interrelated and it therefore requires an integrated approach since it threatens not only the economies of various countries, but also global trade and economic securities.
The US Ambassador to Ghana, HE Stephanie Sullivan in her address, indicated the US readiness to partner with Ghana in providing maritime security and to also enhance interoperability among African, European, Atlantic and US military and agencies. She noted that, the sub-region’s ability to provide security in the maritime domain was of utmost priority now since cases of illegal maritime activities such as piracy, robbery, drug trafficking, fuel bunkering and others are on the increase.
HE Stephanie Sullivan explained that, a safe maritime domain in Africa was of much concern to the global community, and therefore encouraged participating countries of this year’s Exercise and all stakeholders to come up with a coordinated approach to help in countering these illegal maritime activities for a safe and secured Blue Economy for the entire international community.
In his remarks, The Commander US Naval Forces Europe and Africa, Admiral Robert Peter Burke, commended the Ghana Navy and other teams who helped in making OE21 a reality despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This, he said, explains the dedication and readiness by all stakeholders to combat for a safe maritime space. Admiral Burke indicated the multinational exercise will improve the global maritime security and increase the nation’s ability to protect their maritime resources and therefore, urged all participants to work towards the OE21 common goal of enhanced Maritime Security.
The participants from the 32 nations together with both international and local maritime stakeholders and partners like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Narcotics Control Commission (NACOC), the Marine Police, Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority among others undertook very practical exercises with real-time scenarios which saw deployment of participants to both local and foreign naval ships and all Maritime Operation Centres to combat various crimes such as Piracy, Search and Rescue, Human Trafficking, oil spill and emergency response at sea.
As part of OE21, the Ghana Navy Special Forces together with their Denmark, Dutch and Polish Navy counterparts had a training session at the Naval Training Command (NAVTRAC) at Nutekpor in the Volta Region.