Navy to Lead Gulf of Guinea Maritime Security Initiative
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 31, 2007 This fall, a U.S. Navy ship will embark on a six-month deployment to the Gulf of Guinea region, part of a multinational maritime security and safety initiative that partners with several west- and central-African nations, a senior U.S. Navy officer said here today.
The yet-to-be designated amphibious ship will carry 200 to 300 sailors and U.S. Coast Guard members who will man training teams that will work with eleven Gulf of Guinea nations, helping them to build their maritime security capabilities, Navy Adm. Henry G. Ulrich III, commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Europe -- based in Naples, Italy -- told reporters today at a news conference held at Fort Lesley J. McNair here.
The news conference followed a meeting of African, American, French, Portuguese and other military and diplomatic representatives. The meeting was hosted by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, which falls under the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, an element of the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s policy directorate.
At a ministerial conference in Cotonou, Benin, in November, ministers and representatives of Angola, Benin, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo committed themselves to improve their nations’ maritime security and safety systems.
Piracy, illegal fishing, unlawful immigration and smuggling plague several Gulf of Guinea countries, Ulrich said, noting such unlawful activities can attract other undesirable elements, including terrorists.
“Security means that there’s governance,” Ulrich explained. “And, where there’s security and governance is not where people who we describe as terrorists like to go.
“We’re trying to eliminate voids (of law and order),” the admiral continued, noting Gulf of Guinea nations also are interested in establishing their own Coast Guards.
Ulrich said he was very pleased by participant African nations’ reaction to the planned six-month deployment to the Gulf of Guinea, a version of the Navy’s Global Fleet Station concept. The pilot GFS deployment began April 25 when High Speed Vessel 2 Swift and Task Group 40.9 departed Naval Station Mayport, Fla., for Central South American ports-of-call.
“I’m really, really optimistic that this is going to be the tipping point for us and move this whole initiative of maritime safety and security ahead,” Ulrich said.
It’s paramount for the United States to follow through with the Gulf of Guinea initiative, retired U.S. Ambassador Peter R. Chaveas, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, emphasized at the news conference.
“One aspect of Africans’ experience with the United States going back decades is that the United States has shown a great tendency to start some great initiatives and too often the experience is that we’re not there five years later, we don’t follow through on it.” Chaveas explained. “And so, Africans look at these things skeptically with that in mind. So, it’s very, very important as has been going on in this particular context, to keep at this.
“We have to keep communicating with them, consulting with them, making the case that we’re in this with them for the longer term,” Chaveas said.