Two Nigerian Navy ships, NNS Thunder and Burutu joined ships from 10 other countries from Africa and Europe for a multinational sea exercise. The 7-day exercise was hosted by the Cameroonian government in Douala.
With Nigerian Navy Ships (NNS) Thunder and Burutu, the personnel of the Nigerian Navy (NN) navigated their way from Port Harcourt, Nigeria's oil-rich city, to Douala, the capital of Cameroon. It was a voyage that would further proof the strength and position of the well-structured Nigerian Navy as number one in Africa.
At the venue of the 2013 International Maritime Sea Exercise themed Obangame Express, a Cameroonian word for togetherness, the custodian of Nigeria's sea-security showed strength and a deft of professionalism.
In Cameroon, Nigeria's participation once more gave the country a lead in maritime security.
According to the Director and Coordinator of the exercise, Captain Dave Rollo of the United States Navy, the force's commitment to stamping out illegalities in its waters was commendable.
Rollo said Nigeria's participation in such exercise helps in promoting relationships between nations to combat illicit activities in the Gulf of Guinea, saying that the act of piracy is a global problem that must be jointly tackled.
The Nigerian contingent under the watch of the Commanding Officer (CO), NNS Thunder, Captain Adeseye Oke Ayobanjo, was received on arrival by the Nigerian Defence Attaché, Navy Captain Patrick Nwatu; the representative of the Consul General of Nigeria in Douala, Mr Obed Aluko; the Deputy Defence Attaché, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Onoja and other Embassy Staff.
While expressing his delight at the NN's show of force, Nwatu, said Nigeria's participation in the annual sea exercise is a welcome idea as it enhanced the Nigerian Navy's performance in her statutory duty of policing the nation’s maritime environment and the Gulf of Guinea as well as showcasing Nigeria's capability in maritime defence.
The NN also showed its strength when the CO, NNS Burutu, Captain Aminu Hassan, was tasked with the responsibility of the Surface Action Group (SAG)-A having the following vessels under his command; Gabon, Ghana, Cameroon, Equatorial Guniea and French Navy Ships Ombove, NAA Gbewaa, Akwa Yafe, Kientem and Onlive Henaff respectively.
The Hassan-led SAG-A carried out several assigned tasks which include boarding drills, searches, communication exercises and several naval manoeuvres in a professional manner.
Nigeria's formidable participation was in-line with the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba's vision and mission for the service which is encapsulated in his Strategic Guidance 01 packaging for the officers and men of the force.
Ezeoba said: "Within the purview of the strategic endstate and the Armed Forces transformation process, my vision is to emplace a robust and combat ready Navy that is capable of effectively combating the security challenges in Nigeria's maritime domain including the Gulf of Guinea for Nigeria's economic prosperity and national development."
In his mission statement, the CNS said the emplacement of a robust and combat ready fleet is considered as a fundamental pivot for the NN to achieve its mission, which is to discharge its constitutional roles and assigned tasks in a professional and efficient manner, consistent with the global best practices for the defence and protection of Nigeria's territorial integrity.
He added: "In consonance with our national aspiration, the strategic endstate is the attainment of a safe, secure and enabling maritime environment for socio-economic growth and national development in furtherance of the National Transformation Agenda within the context of Vision 20:20:20."
The 15 other African and European countries that participated in the exercise were Ghana, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d' Ivorian, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Netherlands, Republic of Congo, Spain, Sao Tome and Principe, Spain, Togo and the United States of America.
Although the main objective of the exercise was to increase maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as counter piracy, sea robbery and other maritime criminalities, it also served as an avenue for practical trainings on search and boarding, communication drills as well as fostered information sharing amongst the officers of the participating country.
The Cameroonian Defence Minister, Mr Meme Ago'o Edward Alain, while addressing journalists, said naval forces within the region must effectively strengthen their intervention capability using maritime surveillance system and reliable equipment.
According to the Director, NN Information, Commodore Aliyu Kabiru, the exercise provided African nations, Europe and its Atlantic partners the opportunity to work together, share information and refine methods of tackling issues of security in the Gulf of Guinea for better monitoring and enforcement of the territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone.
Besides affording the participating nations the much needed partnership in tackling maritime criminality, he added that the exercise helped participating countries to conduct training on inter-operability, communication drills and other programmes.
Also speaking, the Communication Officer, Western Naval Command (WNC), Lieutenant Commander Jerry Omodara said the two Nigerian ships carried out patrols, training exercises including search and rescue as well as boarding and interrogation while enroute Cameroon.
While speaking to THISDAY, Omodara, said the exercise was a good avenue for training, exchange of ideas and for joint security of the maritime domain, especially the Gulf of Guinea.
He said: "We seized collaborative opportunities like this to curb maritime illegalities and this is in line with the strategic guidance of the CNS, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba."
"It also affords us opportunities to test our capability. We also saw the capabilities of our special forces when they had to intercept suspected vessels at sea and they did so in a highly commendably and professional manner. We had the boarding team from Republic of Congo boarding the NNS Thunder while our SBS boarded the French ship successfully."
The exercise was however not without its fair share of challenges, a fact that was buttressed by the CO. According to him, although English was chosen as the common language, there were non-English-speaking countries who participated in the event.
He added, "But to a large extent, I think we were able to overcome the barrier posed by language in relation to our communication procedures for the exercise.
"However, the Nigerian contingent were equipped to communicate because we have the state of the art communication radio set, Very High Frequency (VHF), Ultra High Frequency radio(UHF) and we also have our inter-operability for internet connectivity on board."
While exercise of this nature often has logistics as the major challenge, Omodara believes they were adequately funded by the naval authorities. "Everything was okay with us. We were adequately prepared, ship logistics and everything was well catered for," he said,
Although he said that there is yet room for improvement in subsequent exercises, the CO noted that the Obangame express 2013, being the third in its series is actually an improvement over the previous two experiences.
Meanwhile, in an interview during her tour of Nigeria's flagship, NNS Thunder, the Nigerian Ambassador to Cameroon, Ambassador Hadiza Mustapha, expressed satisfaction at the way the navy did the nation proud.
He said: "What the Nigerian Navy is doing is important to the safety of our maritime domain especially at this period of security challenges.
"The exercise will help cooperate and stem the illegalities in our maritime domain. It would also promote our economic activities which cannot thrive if there is no safety on our waters. So, the Nigerian contingent was quite impressive. It is a matter of national pride for us."
Also speaking, CO NNS Burutu, Hassan, said what they did during the exercise was not far from what is obtainable during their normal day-to- day patrol in the nation's waterways.
He however said the exercise sharpened their skills, adding that the exercise helped reinforced the lesson that they all have a common problem.
He said: "About four countries including Togo, Cameroon, Cote D'Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, boarded my ship. Also, my SBS team boarded about four at the same time. From these exercises, we have come up with our observations.
"Some of the observations include the next line of action a commander of a ship is expected to take when criminals who are being pursued run across another country's territorial waters.
"I will want to see the next exercise introducing the aspect on how to pass information across to the country where the suspect crossed to."
On Nigeria's participation, he said the nation gave a good account of itself. "Nobody is contesting that among all the participants, Nigeria produced the highest number of platforms with two ships and a maritime patrol aircraft."
Lieutenant Commander, Kola Omopariola who led team in different operations while at the sea said, "Although we had our own challenges but were able to learn from others tactics, which was slightly different from ours. We were able to look at their tactics and made adjustments to it. We also impacted on their moves too.
"The aim of the exercises was to board the vessel, search, probably for contraband. It was more of stimulation and we tried to follow the Geneva Convention format which is the standard means of arresting suspects without infringing on their human rights."
At the closing ceremony, the Commander, United States African Command, General Carter Ham, said maritime partnership, security and safety were increasingly important in the Gulf of Guinea region to combat a variety of challenges including maritime crime, illicit trafficking and piracy.