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American experts urge Nigeria to secure territorial waters

By The Citizen

The United States Department of State Africa Regional Media Hub, Chief of Multinational Coordination Centre Zone D, Capt Sylvester Mbah has urged President Muhammadu Buhari and Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi to secure its territorial waters. Nigeria's leaders, he said should  ensure that West and Central African countries worked together to combat piracy, illicit trafficking and illegal fishing, among others in order to ensure that Nigeria becomes the hub of maritime trade in Africa.

He made the call at a teleconference in Lagos, saying Nigeria should also improve its maritime capabilities and expertise and collaborate with other member-countries of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African State (ECCAS) to boost security on the waterways.

Mbah was addressing reporters on phone on the 2016 Exercise Obangame/Saharan Express which began last week in Senegal, Dakar. The exercise will end in Cameroon on Friday.

Obangame is an African word meaning 'All togetherness.' Nigeria hosted the exercise in 2012 and 2014.

It is a multinational maritime exercise sponsored by the United States Africa Command and it brings together African, European, South American and the US forces to enhance cooperation and expertise in maritime security operations.

Mbah noted that Nigeria, Cameroon and other African countries have benefited from Obangame, in terms of capacity building and information sharing, urging the 32 participating countries to have the political will and good legal framework to protect local and international waters.

The US Naval Officer in charge of the exercise, Navy Captain Heidi Agle, said the collaboration would strengthen transportation, shipping, fishing and tourism industries and improve participating countries economies. The overall objective of the exercise, she said, 'is to encourage the regional countries to work together to increase their capacity to cure what I call 'sea blindness,' which is to increase their maritime domain awareness.

'Regional security is vital to us all, and mutual understanding makes us a stronger, faster team.

'In 2015, we evolved into a two- front coordinated exercise focused on information sharing and decentralised command and control.  ''Building upon those principals, this year's exercise includes real-world scenarios. Our primary objective is to learn from one another, work with one another and stay at least one step ahead of our common foes.

'Maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea has improved due to our collective efforts. Maintaining commerce across the globe requires teamwork. It takes strength, cooperation, and commitment to combat the criminals who operate at sea.  We have seen ECOWAS and ECCAS nations possess the will, the capability, and the capacity to successfully conduct operations to enhance maritime security,' Agle said.

Chief of Zone D Maritime Operations Centre and Director of the exercise for Cameroon, Captain Fonkoua, said the threats of hostage taking, piracy, illegal fishing and trafficking were affecting ECOWAS and ECCAS economies.

'That is why we talked about a collective partnership and an African exercise with the American Navy and African navies to train together in order to overcome these threats,' he said.

On how the exercise will help Nigeria to stem oil theft and criminalities on the water ways, Fonkoua said: 'Nigeria is particularly very, very concerned about this problem. But I think that there are many, many improvements which have been done since we have launched this partnership.

'You can remember the example of the good information sharing that has led Nigeria to go and remove a ship, a motor ship, which was under pirate control, Maximus, and which was been stolen in Ivory Coast, and has sailed from ECOWAS waters into ECCAS waters. As she went into international waters to reclaim the ship,  the Nigerian Navy has done a great job. She utilised information sharing mechanism between the French and US Navy, Togo, and Benin, with some handover of the vessel of interest, which led the Nigerian Navy to have a successful boarding on board the Maximus. This is the kind of response which is a benefit of what we are doing through this kind of exercise.' The Nation