Naval forces from 33 countries came together for exercise Obangame Express to work on countering piracy, drug trafficking, and illegal fishing, which are common in the Gulf of Guinea.
The Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) participated in the multinational exercise Obangame Express, on the African Coast, for the sixth time. Since 2010, the training gathers naval forces from Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The objective is to boost regional cooperation and promote maritime domain awareness.
The African Coast faces issues such as drug, arms, and human trafficking; illegal fishing, and piracy. During the two-week exercise, Obangame also develops information sharing standards and vessel interdiction expertise, to counter illegal activities at sea.
“The majority of the region’s economic activities rely on the safe and lawful use of West African coastal waters, which is why Obangame Express is such an important exercise,” said U.S. Navy Captain Eric Conzen, commodore of U.S. Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa and director of Obangame 2019. “That skillful participation reinforces the fact that maritime security is a collective effort.”
Obangame is divided in two phases. The first, known as Command Post Exercise, takes place on the ground, with ships docked at port. The objective is to prepare service members for the next phase, the Field Training Exercise, which takes place at sea. This year, Senegal and Angola developed all the activities. For training purposes, the entire region is divided into seven zones. In this edition, as well as in the 2018 and 2017 sessions, MB led activities conducted in zone A, an operational area that includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Angola.
Ground activities in zone A took place in Luanda, the capital of Angola. “Our main focus was to prepare Angolan Navy service members for the upcoming exercises, during the at-sea phase,” said MB Lieutenant Commander Eduardo Fagundes Costa, responsible for the surface and submarine resources section of MB.
“A U.S. officer was put in charge of completing a schedule of activities,” Lt. Cmdr. Eduardo said.
Among the activities, the officer highlighted the revision of standard operating procedures, a case study, and details about scenarios created as background for the at-sea phase of the mission. Additionally, an MB service member gave a lecture on international law, while a U.S. specialist led a talk on maritime domain awareness training. Service members also participated in live demonstrations, and classes on board the Araguari oceanic patrol vessel, the Brazilian ship deployed for Obangame Express 2019.
The knowledge was applied to hands-on tasks during the second phase of the multinational exercise. As service members went out to sea, they sought to solve issues MB officers presented within their area of operation — zone A. Participants carried out several activities, planning and executing operations to respond to illegal fuel storage, civilian kidnapping, fuel spills, piracy, armed robbery, contraband, illegal fishing, and protection of an oil platform, among others.
At the end of each day, Brazilian officers met to evaluate participants’ performance, identifying service members’ strengths and weaknesses. “These reports were distributed to the army general command, under the U.S. Navy’s responsibility, located this year in Lagos, Nigeria,” said Lt. Cmdr. Eduardo.
Unification of forces
Obangame Express was carried out for the first time as an initiative of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, a naval component of the U.S. Navy, with activities in Europe and Africa. Since then, the training is carried out annually. In 2019, 33 nations participated, deploying 95 vessels and 12 aircraft, between March 10-22.
The 2019 edition of Obangame included the Senior Leaders Seminar, carried out for the first time in 2018. The 2019 event gathered more experienced officers from participating navies. The three-day symposium occurred in tandem with other Obangame activities. Topics discussed covered the main concerns for naval forces that operate in the Gulf of Guinea. The seminar also promoted discussions on how to handle these challenges together to improve the response time to certain events at sea.
According to Lt. Cmdr. Eduardo, MB participation in Obangame is an opportunity to learn and share experiences. “Tasked with Exercise Control Group command in Zone A, MB played a role in learning about leadership during combined operations. It was also an opportunity to strengthen friendship and respect toward the other participating countries,” he said.