Home Business Maritime security is a collective effort—US Obangame Capt.Conzen

Maritime security is a collective effort—US Obangame Capt.Conzen

by Business News Report

Press Briefing on Obangame Express 2019 with U.S. Navy Captain Eric Conzen, Commodore of U.S. Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa and Exercise Director for Obangame Express 2019, and Nigerian Rear Admiral Obed Habila Ngalabak, The Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command had a Teleconference on the exercise,

Introduction Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State. I would like to welcome our participants dialling in from across Africa and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today’s call will focus on exercise Obangame Express 2019. We have two speakers for today’s call and they are U.S. Navy Captain Eric Conzen, who is the Commodore of U.S. Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa and the Exercise Director for Obangame Express 2019. We are also pleased to be joined by Nigerian Commodore, Rear Admiral Obed Habila Ngalabak, and he will also speak as well. We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Captain Conzen and the commodore, and then we will turn to your questions. At any time during the call, if you would like to ask a question, you must press star 1 on your phone to join the queue. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Captain Conzen. 


Thank you very much. First of all I would like to thank you all for joining us today. I’m excited to be here, talking about Obangame Express 2019, an exercise that brings together 33 countries from the Gulf of Guinea nations, Europe, North and South America, as well as several regional and international organisations. The majority of the region’s economic activities rely on the safe and lawful use of West African coastal waters, which is why exercise Obangame Express is such an important exercise. The skilful participation reinforces the fact that maritime security is a collective effort. It is my third year traveling down to the Gulf of Guinea from Naples, and every year I’m amazed at the collective effort of all participants to continue to successfully increase the scope and complexity of the exercise. The exercise spans five operational areas and covers more than 2.3 million square kilometers. Exercise Obangame Express will focus specifically on counter-piracy, energy security, counter-illicit fishing, and counter-illicit trafficking. This year the exercise will also feature training and search-and-rescue operations and advanced medical training. The exercise will include a wide variety for all participating forces, including at-sea ship boardings and queries, air operations, communications drills, and regional information sharing. 

To enhance cooperation, detection capabilities, and capability to respond, all objections of the exercise, Gulf of Guinea nations seek to ensure narcotics traffickers are deterred, fisheries trades are protected, and trade waters remain free of piracy, allowing for global trade to continue unhampered and thus enhancing overall economic stability. Before we start taking questions I’d like to note that this exercise, in various forms over the years, has proven successful at increasing partner nations’ capabilities. In the past, we’ve had multiple examples of real-world applications when African nations have redirected military ships conducting training during the exercise to handle real-world events. We consistently see the training objectives reinforced as countries intercepted the suspect ships, collected evidence, and turned everything over to the authorities at shore. I know I speak for the entire exercise team when I say we’re looking forward to once again working with our African partners to deter criminal activity at sea. 

COMMODORE: I am Commodore, The Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command. First of all, I want to thank you for bringing us to this table to have this discussion, for better public awareness on the issues concerning Obangame Express. I would say that if not for anything, Nigeria has benefitted a lot from this exercise since its inception, because over the years we’ve had a lot of criminal issues in our waters, ranging from piracy to smuggling and poaching and other maritime criminal activities. Back here in Nigeria, conducting several operations to ensure that these activities are curtailed. But suddenly we are noting that most of these criminal activities are transnational in nature, and it is not possible for Nigeria to go it alone. So the bringing and coming of Obangame Express, organised by the U.S. naval officers, is a blessing to us because it has really kept the Gulf of Guinea countries, Nigeria others together to be able to work as a team now, to reduce and sometimes completely eradicate these criminal activities. So it’s a good thing for us; we appreciate the job the organisers of this exercise have done for us, and we will continue to partner with the U.S. Navy to ensure that the spirit behind Obangame Express, continues to rise from one level to a better level. So behold, I thank you and am open to any questions. If there’s anything I need to say more, I am here with you. Thank you. 

MODERATOR: Thank you both for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Over to you at the embassy, Abuja. 

What are the specific areas of cooperation between Nigeria and the U.S.? Then, since the inception of the cooperation, how many Nigerian naval personnel have been trained so far? 

COMMODORE: Okay, I think I should take that. Yeah, the level of cooperation between Nigerian Navy and the U.S. Navy has been very, very encouraging. In area of training they have really assisted in training our personnel in various areas ranging from processes and procedures that are in line with international best practices to arresting of vessels, evidence collection, and they have also assisted in training us in the areas of special forces, there are a lot of activities going on to build our forces up to date on approaches to vessels search and boarding. So the partnership has really benefitted the forces in human capacity development and other areas. As for the number of persons that have been trained so far, I can’t give that number specifically, but I can tell you that a large number of our officers have benefitted immensely by this process and Nigeria as a whole, I can tell you that the level of training we have acquired has really helped us in reducing some maritime criminal activity, which is the benefit of the entire mission

CAPT. CONZEN I will add that with the coordination between the U.S. Navy and the Nigerian Navy, Nigeria is the host this year as we’re coming to Lagos Nigeria, and they offer up their base to host the exercise control group, the group that I’m in charge of, and we’re able to run the entire exercise from north to south, using the infrastructure provided to us by the Nigerian Navy, for which we are very appreciative. As to the number of personnel, I will say that it is early on in the exercise. We are in the beginning phase, what we call the “command post exercise,” that is more training- and classroom-oriented, and the opening ceremony is actually tomorrow, and then we will move into a field training exercise, which is when the ships get underway and we begin training at sea, and that starts tomorrow. 

MODERATOR: For our next question we will turn to our Consulate General in Lagos, and again, we have some journalists listening there, so if you could identify yourself and your outlet when you ask the question. Over to our consulate general in Lagos. 

My name is Richard from Radio 95.7 FM Lagos. I would like to ask the Nigerian commodore how many US Naval personnel are participating in this exercise, and how many of your men are also taking part in it? 

COMMODORE: Right now the ships that will actively participate will go to sea and take part actively in the exercise are eight in number. However, we have some other smaller ships placed on standby on short notice so that if they are needed, they can take part in the exercise, so cumulatively, I can comfortably tell you about 15 ships standing by for the exercise. 

How about personnel? 

COMMODORE: The number of personnel, I can say we are over 500, because each ship has its own complement. Some have up to 200 personnel, some have 100, some have fifty-plus, but I didn’t really take time to calculate the number of personnel on all the ships before coming, but cumulatively they’re about 500. 

You said that Nigeria alone cannot handle the issue, and that this collaboration has helped. how will Nigeria benefit from this collaborative endeavour? 

COMMODORE: That’s why the training, this collaboration with the U.S., has really helped us to establish a good information-sharing platform with our sister African nations. Today, if there’s any criminal activity going on in maybe Gabonese waters or maybe Togolese waters, it is very easy for us to get information and that a vessel of interest is running away from their own waters and so it’s easy for us to get this information and and arrest it. Recently we traced a vessels from Nigerian waters into a neighbouring water based on this agreement, and the vessels were arrested. So now that the criminals know there is no hiding place, I think it’s a bonus to all of us. About the information-sharing, we look at the area concerning the human capacity building and also mutual trust. Before now, the francophone, the English, the Portuguese, speaking and other nations, who don’t really find ourselves interacting with each other. But with this Obangame Express, we now understand ourselves better. So that mutual trust has really established, that once we [Unclear] here in Nigeria, the other countries normally fall in place and will get it done as a team. So it’s a very good thing for all the forces. The other area I can say we have really benefitted is the area of synergy in operations. So if we can’t get to that particular area [Unclear] to that country to handle that matter, and that is done to our own benefit. So I think it’s a good thing, that is in addition to human capacity development, that information-sharing, and the synergy, mutual trust. I think that is also good. 

What has it cost Nigeria in terms of the investment made in this exercise? Is the coordination really making impact in the way you are expecting it, or do you need to reform your process? 

COMMODORE: Yes, let me start from the last one. The criminal activities involving. The criminals are always looking for ways for way of escape, so as we are strategising to stop their activities, they are clearly walking on their own path. But the good thing is those are areas where we are looking at doing this exercises, in those new areas, those are areas that they think they are trying to get the upper hand. So on the whole, there’s a whole lot of jobs done because if not for what we are doing now, criminal activities would have really, really, really increased. It is difficult for them now to really operate the way they wanted; you know, they can’t operate in our waters. So I think we are following them up, we are upping our game, this kind of Obangame Express has provided. I think there’s room for improvement, there’s room for improvement, actually. 

Then to go back onto which of Nigeria’s maritime security, I think mostly we have from the time of operations in Liberia, up to the case of Lebanon, up to the present, we have really contributed a lot. The safety of our seaways alone is enough to promote good international trade. The Nigerian Navy has ensured that our maritime environment is as safe as possible for international trade to go on. And I think I can boast that within our waters, the ships are safer now, especially, I can see the concentration of shipping activities in Lagos area. if it is  not safe, you will not see these kinds of activities going on. So we have contributed to keeping [the water ways safe for the international community in their trades and ours, too. So I think we have really promoted the international economy’s prosperity for the nation—for the world. 

CAPT. CONZEN: What I would add is that this is the ninth iteration of the exercise, and every year we take the lessons learned, not only of how we run the exercise but the things that pass in the years that go on, and incorporate them into the exercise. There’s a range of illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea, which underscores the need for cooperation, and really cooperation and communication is the goal of these exercises. This all just proves that no single nation can accomplish the mission on its own; it’s the information-sharing, as we’re doing in the exercise, that is vital to deterring the criminals who seek to disrupt the global trade flows. 

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We have a quick question submitted in advance from a journalist in Senegal, who actually asked if the Senegalese can join the U.S. Army. Is that a possibility? 

CAPT. CONZEN: I will have to get back to you; I’m not sure. 

MODERATOR: Alright, thank you very much. And with that, I think that is all the questions that we have time for Speakers, do you have any closing words you would like to offer? 

COMMODORE: Yes, on behalf of the Chief of Naval Staff, I want to extend our appreciation to the organisers of this event, first of all for choosing Nigeria as the host nation for this year’s exercise, and I want to also appreciate other countries that are not sponsoring but they are participating in training of our personnel, such as the Netherlands and some other countries; Denmark and some other friendly nations. They have really done well, and we encourage them to continue to partner with us. We are also developing our capacity to ensure that by this time next year, we are going to become better than what we have done so far. So I think it will be great having all the countries in Nigeria, and I wish all of them a very comfortable stay and in all their activities you are going to carry out during the exercise, and whatever area that is, that Nigeria will be assuring the community that we are there, and we will do our best to ensure that things work as planned. 

CAPT. CONZEN: As I mentioned in my discussion at the beginning, this is the third year I’ve done it out of the nine years that the exercise has been going on, and it’s my last. And over the last three years, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth each time in the complexity of the exercise, and it is a testament to the hard work of the host nations, and I wanted to thank Nigeria for hosting this year, and all the countries that put this together. The U.S. Naval Forces Africa is sort of the veneer on the top of a hardworking team that each year puts this together, and every year they add something that they’ve learned over the previous year or something they couldn’t get to before, that we can add in, as underlined by the search-and-rescue that we’ve added this year and the medical training, so I look forward to many more years ahead of working together with the partners to make the waters off the Gulf of Guinea safer and to free up trade. 

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