US Africom ship arrives off West Africa

Nov 13, 2007
Author: Jacquelyn S. Porth (USINFO)

by Jacquelyn S. Porth (USINFO Staff Writer)

Washington 12 November 2007 - The USS FORT McHENRY has arrived off the coast of West Africa to lead an international team of experts that will train African sailors to confront the daily challenges of illegal fishing, piracy, drug trafficking and oil smuggling.

The amphibious ship is the centerpiece of the new Africa Partnership Station (APS) initiative. During its seven-month deployment, it will serve as a floating platform in the strategically important Gulf of Guinea, where it will promote regional maritime safety and security.

The APS task group commander, Captain John Nowell, said the Fort McHenry can be used as a base “to bring together many nations” to achieve a shared vision through joint engagement. The floating school “will help us achieve common goals through partnership and collaboration,” he said.

The Fort McHenry’s commanding officer, Commander Martin Pompeo, said his crew and partners will work “together to help the western side of Africa … prosper.”

The West Africa program is modeled on a successfully completed Global Fleet Station mission in the Caribbean that helped promote port security and stronger borders in Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Panama.

The vessel will make numerous port visits, beginning with Senegal, where it will conduct engineering training and focus on small boat handling for coastal security organizations. Additional stops are scheduled in Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, and Sao Tome and Principe.

En route to the region, the Fort McHenry augmented its passenger list with specialists from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain and officers from Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana. Denmark, Italy and Portugal are also providing military staff support.

The training teams will be working together to form what Admiral Henry “Harry” Ulrich has described as “a center of excellence” that will provide customised training. Ulrich, who heads the US naval forces in Europe, says primary emphasis will be on the following maritime concerns:

- Domain awareness: Can you see what is out there?
- Professionalism: Do you have the right people to support maritime security and safety?
- Infrastructure: Is there the right mix of equipment and training to support it?
- Enforcement: Are trained professionals ready to intervene if needed?

Ulrich said the idea is to import the best practices used elsewhere and set up “a system of systems” so that Africans will have the full range of skills “to patrol and maintain their own exclusive economic zones.”

The initiative is supported by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the US departments of State and Homeland Security.

African students will be ferried between their home ports and the Fort McHenry on the high-speed Swift boat. In a port call to Limbe, Cameroon, in December, 100 Cameroonians will embark for a two-week session for leadership and personnel training.

Shared vision through joint engagement

“We’re looking forward to working with our partner nations in the Gulf of Guinea, exchanging ideas … and further strengthening our ties,” Nowell said. Passengers also will conduct community outreach by renovating local schools and medical clinics.

David Zimmerman, chief of security cooperation for the US Coast Guard, told USINFO that its training will focus on port security, maritime law enforcement and small boat operations. Expertise in small boat tactics is particularly valuable, he said, for river and port security and coastal border patrol.

The Coast Guard will be providing a rotating team of four trainers and a staff officer. The continuous presence of the Fort McHenry will allow them, and other trainers, to reinforce what they have taught students with follow-up training.

Lieutenant Commander Peter Niles, a Coast Guard training manager, told USINFO that most of the countries the Fort McHenry is visiting already have an ongoing partnership with the Coast Guard through US security assistance programs.

NOAA will train 30 Ghanaians in the spring to improve scientific data collection and the monitoring of fish catches. The training also will focus on endangered species, such as sea turtles, that should not be caught.

NOAA spokeswoman Monica Allen told USINFO that her agency has scientific and safety equipment onboard, but the trainers will join the ship in 2008. She said its activities support an important goal of the National Fishery Conservation Act calling on the agency to enhance international fishery cooperation.

USAID’s personnel are not sailing with the ship, but will team up when it visits countries where there is a mission, such as Liberia, Senegal and Ghana. USAID plans to hold a bird flu conference in Ghana, and there are tentative plans to donate veterinary lab equipment.



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