The Nigerian Navy (NN), her regional counterparts, United States and three European countries on Saturday embarked on a multinational sea exercise to tackle the piracy and sea robbery in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
Also joined in the exercise are West African countries the focus is to fight illegal fishing and other maritime crime.
The annual exercise codenamed OBANGAME Express which was initiated by the US in 2011 to strengthen collaboration and capacity of navies in the region to contain maritime challenges was suspended last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nigeria deployed six ships – NNS THUNDER, PROSPERITY, KARADUWA, NGURU, EKULU, ESE, and Tugboat Dolphin Rima and Tugboat Mira; two tug-boats (Dolphin Rima and Mira), two Agusta helicopters, a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) maritime patrol aircraft and detachments of the NN’s Special Boats Services (SBS) to participate alongside visiting French and US warships.
The Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, while flagging off the exercise onboard the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) THUNDER at the Naval Dockyard Limited (NDL), Victoria Island, on Saturday said the joint exercise was introduced to foster togetherness of regional navies as a result of the huge resources and vast potential being continuously undermined by multifaceted domestic and cross border threats.
The CNS said that the exercise would present an opportunity for the Nigerian Navy to work together with other navies in the spirit of the Yaounde Code of Conduct.
“This code is designed to improve operational readiness, maritime domain awareness, information sharing practices and tactical interdiction expertise. This will enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guniea and West African nations to counter sea based illicit activities.
“It will also enhance the operational capability of the Nigeria Navy in its fight against various forms of maritime crime through information and intelligence sharing. The exercise aims at contributing to the freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Guniea by strengthening coordination in the fight against insecurity for socioeconomic activities among member states to thrive,” he said.
In her remark, the US Consul General, Claire Pierangelo said the annual exercise signified the strong partnership between the US and Nigeria, adding that executing it despite the COVID-19 restrictions was a true testament to the richness and quality of both countries’ relationship.
According to her, maritime security, especially in the GoG, was a common interest to all nations as no fewer than 16 countries share the same waters.
“Although maritime threats in the GoG have continued to evolve and are increasingly difficult to address, a secure maritime environment is integral to other dimensions of security; it is the backbone of healthy commerce, promotes economic development and supports sustainable management of all living and non-living resources on which the entire region relies.
“We are encouraged by Nigeria’s progress and investments in maritime security operations; we advocate for Nigeria to lead the way in regional security; and we support lit allies in their measure to bolster existing efforts,” said Pierangelo.
Also, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Command, Rear Admiral Jason Gbassa, said that the exercise was focusing on maritime crime hotspots to improve maritime security operations in the GoG.
“The exercise comes against the backdrop of piracy cases, illegal fishing, illegal exploration of mineral resources, proliferation of small arms and light weapons and other local and international threats within the gulf.
“Therefore, maintaining Nigeria’s strategic deterrence posture and influence in the maritime environment is critical to our economic prosperity and regional stability,” he said.
Gbassa said Nigerian Navy’s fleet would conduct exercises with French Navy Ship, Dixmude, in conjunction with other navies that will be participating, adding that areas of interest would include protection of oil and gas facilities, fleet manoeuvres, communication, vessel board search and seizure, medical evacuation, among others.
“The exercise will give additional impetus to our overall operational combatant experiences to ensure that our nation’s territorial integrity is maintained in line with the Nigerian Navy constitutional mandate,” he said.