May 19, 2024

Gabon Launches 13th Obangame Express Maritime Exercise with Regional and International Partners

Troops carry out an exercise on Brazilian Navy Ocean Patrol Ship Araguari, during exercise Obangame Express 2023. (Photo: Brazilian Navy)

The Cadet School of Libreville set the stage for the commencement of the 13th iteration of exercise Obangame Express, as the Gabonese Navy, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF), and more than 30 regional and international partners converged for the opening ceremony.

Designed as West Africa’s premier maritime exercise, Obangame Express aims to bolster regional cooperation in alignment with the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, enhancing maritime domain awareness, information sharing, and interdiction capabilities. The exercise’s name, “Obangame,” meaning “togetherness” in the Fang language, encapsulates the collaborative spirit fostered among participating nations, including Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

Major General Brigitte Onkanowa, Gabonese Defense Minister, Vernelle Trim FitzPatrick, U.S. Ambassador to Gabon, and Rear Admiral Michael Mattis, Director of Strategic Effects for NAVEUR-NAVAF, led the opening ceremony, emphasizing the importance of collective efforts in ensuring maritime security and stability in the region.

In his remarks, RDML Charles Hubert Bekale Meyong underscored Gabon’s commitment to international naval cooperation, stating, “Obangame means ‘togetherness,’ and it is in this spirit of togetherness that we welcome so many of our friends to this exercise as we deepen interoperability and enhance our collective capabilities in the maritime domain.”

Over the next two weeks, participants will engage in a series of exercises focusing on integration between Maritime Operation Centers (MOCs), Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) scenarios, women, peace and security (WPS) events, and medical, legal, and public communications training. These exercises aim to combat illicit activities such as smuggling, oil bunkering, and illegal fishing, enhancing operational procedures and fostering interpersonal connections crucial for maritime security infrastructure in West and Central Africa.

Rear Admiral Michael Mattis highlighted the significance of in-person collaboration, stating, “Obangame Express remains the premier maritime exercise in West and Central Africa due to the outstanding efforts of professionals from dozens of countries year in and year out.”

A notable feature of this year’s exercise is the deployment of U.S. unmanned surface vehicles (USV) in the Gulf of Guinea and enhanced SeaVision and MOC incorporation, demonstrating a commitment to innovation and interoperability among participating nations. Additionally, Obangame Express will feature linkages to the Special Operations Command Africa-led exercise Flintlock, with combined VBSS events in Takoradi, Ghana.

The U.S. Navy Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary sea base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) will play a pivotal role in the exercise, facilitating VBSS scenarios, providing maritime domain awareness, and launching and recovering USVs. The ship’s involvement underscores the U.S. Navy’s commitment to regional maritime security.

Exercise Obangame Express 2024 follows the combined African Maritime Forces Summit (AMFS) and Naval Infantry Leaders Symposium-Africa (NILS-A) in Accra, Ghana, where maritime leaders convened to discuss maritime security and collaboration. These discussions, coupled with exercises like Obangame Express, enhance interoperability and promote security and stability across Africa’s waters.

As partner and ally forces collaborate during Obangame Express 2024, the exercise aims to strengthen collective maritime law enforcement capabilities, bolster regional security, and foster greater interoperability among U.S., African, and multinational partners, underscoring the enduring commitment to ensuring the safety and security of the regional maritime environment.

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