Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet, arrived in Lagos, Nigeria for the opening ceremony of Exercise Obangame Express (OE23), the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western and Central Africa, Jan. 27, 2023.
The visit to Lagos, held in conjunction with OE23, included engagements at the Western Navy Command, Naval Airbase Ojo, and the Joint Maritime Security Training Center. The meetings focused on enhancing relationships with senior government and military leaders and underscored the longstanding importance of U.S.-African maritime cooperation on mutual security interests within the region.
During the OE23 opening ceremony held at the Naval Dockyard, Ishee delivered remarks alongside U.S. Consul General Will Stevens and the Flag Officer Commanding of Nigeria’s Western Naval Command, Rear Adm. Yakubu Wambai.
“The global importance and vast scale of the waters surrounding Africa provides an opportunity to work with our African partners to solve transnational issues,” said Ishee. “The work accomplished during Obangame Express strengthens regional cooperation and trust, ensuring African nations can continue protecting their coastal resources and sovereign waters.”
Over the last decade, the United States has steadily increased maritime security cooperation with partners on Africa’s Atlantic coast to improve maritime domain awareness capability and ability to protect their sovereign waters. A robust partnership between the United States and African nations is vital to achieve our shared priorities of strengthening free and open international order.
“Maritime security is not a one nation obligation. Military exercises such as Obangame Express are part of a long-standing comprehensive strategy by the U.S. government to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners that address maritime security concerns such as trafficking in persons, narcotics, illegal fishing, and piracy,” said Stevens.
Nigeria maintains the largest navy in the Gulf of Guinea region and is critical to security and stability in Africa. Wambai expounded on the importance of the exercise and continued regional cooperation among Gulf of Guinea nations during the exercise’s opening ceremony.
“The challenges in the maritime domain require more collaboration and information sharing. We are requesting our partners improve this — particularly members of the public, to bring forth credible information needed to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain,” said Wambai.
Conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) and sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), OE23 is designed to improve regional cooperation, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of participating nations to counter Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing and other sea-based illicit activity.
The 33 nations participating in OE23 include Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, France, Gabon, The Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, and the United States. Also participating will be the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
For more than 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.