The Obangame Express 2018 exercise took place in the Gulf of Guinea with the participation of navies and agencies from 31 countries.
The Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) deployed to the Gulf of Guinea to participate in the multinational exercise Obangame Express 2018. The purpose of the exercise is to train African navies to patrol the Gulf of Guinea and increase maritime security in the region, ramping up efforts to fight frequent crimes, such as piracy, narcotrafficking, human trafficking, armed robbery, and illegal fishing.
Obangame Express, an annual event, kicked off in 2010 under the aegis of U.S. Naval Forces Africa, the naval component of U.S. Africa Command. The 2018 version took place March 21st–29th on the African coast with the participation of 31 countries, including Germany, Belgium, the United States, France, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. The exercise, whose name means “union” in the dialect of the Fang tribe, originally from the continental area of Equatorial Guinea, also aims to cultivate interoperability among participating navies and agencies.
According to MB Commander Carlos Eduardo Fiorino Carneiro, head of the Naval Operations Command Surface Assets Unit (ComOpNav, in Portuguese), MB took 109 service members to the exercise and was in charge of operations area A, which included Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo. “We had three officers who worked in the Maritime Operations Center (MOC) in Angola, and from there initiated, coordinated, and evaluated all the events in area A; one officer in the Exercise Control Group in Gabon, who worked as a liaison officer with the U.S. Navy; and a team from the Almirante Marques de Leão Training Center deployed on the Ocean Patrol Ship (NaPaOc, in Portuguese) Amazonas, for real-time assessments of African navy procedures,” Cmdr. Fiorino told Diálogo.
According to MB Captain Charles Alan da Silva, head of the Special Operations Division at ComOpNav, MB’s participation was essential in ensuring interoperability with partner nation armed forces. “The whole world’s armed forces are increasingly used in a combined format to defend common interests of partner nations, especially when fighting transnational crimes. So, the combined deployment of multinational assets, exchange of procedures, sharing of experiences and tactics, like we did in Obangame Express 2018, results in greater efficiency of the forces involved,” Capt. Alan said.
Applying maritime law
According to Cmdr. Fiorino, Obangame Express allows African service members to take a closer look at materials boarding teams used and techniques employed once aboard. The exercise also contributed to an improved application of international maritime law. “It’s a way of expanding the involvement of signatory countries to the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, through the implementation of a regional strategy for maritime security in Central and Western Africa, and strengthening the partnership among the 20 countries that signed the code,” he said.
This was the fifth time MB, represented by NaPaOc Amazonas, participated in Obangame Express. “As an oceanic patrol ship, it was able to sail to the Gulf of Guinea quickly and more economically than a larger ship. Its size made it ideal for this type of event, since a wide array of boarding exercises were conducted in which the Brazilian ship participated as the target, simulating a pirate vessel,” Cmdr. Fiorino explained.
He added that specific systems were used to coordinate activities within a very complex scenario, such as SeaVision—a real-time monitoring system of units at sea, which receives information from the ships’ automatic identification system—and HipChat, a virtual chat room through which all information flowed at the exercise’s execution phase. “[This] made communication possible with all maritime operation centers, and it was essential for actions to play out,” Cmdr. Fiorino said. “Each scenario of the exercise was initiated using pre-planned injections on HipChat. The Angolan service members at the MOC received messages from representatives of each navy prepared during planning meetings, and took the measures they deemed necessary based on content to allow for a gradual evolution of the situation.”
As part of the exercise, participants transmitted information shifting the status of the target ship from unknown to suspicious, leading to an actual boarding. “Within that context, the Brazilian team at the MOC was responsible for coordinating, assessing, and analyzing actions of its service members, with daily debriefings, once scenarios ended,” Cmdr. Fiorino explained.
This was the officer’s second time participating in Obangame Express, which he considers an excellent training opportunity for service members involved and a chance to interact with counterparts from other countries. “The hardest part was performing command and control in a satisfactory way, that is, coordinating the event within our area of responsibility, so that every action is done effectively to achieve the mission’s objective,” he said.
According to Cmdr. Fiorino, the Senior Leader Symposium, held March 26th–28th in Gabon, set the 2018 edition apart from past editions. The U. S. Naval War College-coordinated event included lectures, discussion panels, and debates on common maritime challenges and opportunities to improve international maritime security.