By Capt. Marc Lederer
APS Mission Commander aboard USNS Spearhead
Today we wrapped up three weeks of Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) operations with our Ghanaian partners, during which small teams operating in rigid-hull, inflatable boats off USNS Spearhead boarded several small fishing boats found illegally operating in Ghana’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Guinea. Ghanaian law enforcement officials issued infractions that could equal fines of up to $2 million once the judicial process is complete.
A strong Navy is a recognized United States commitment to the world. Spread across the globe, there is a strong demand for a naval force presence from our political leaders, combat commanders, and partner nations worldwide. The countries of West Africa represent a cross section of maritime nations that value the enduring nature of partnerships already developed with the armed forces of the United States.
As a part of Spearhead’s maiden deployment to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility, we are participating in Africa Partnership Station (APS), an international security cooperation initiative aimed at strengthening global maritime partnerships through training and collaborative activities in order to improve maritime safety and security in Africa. We are there now. We will be there tomorrow, and we will be there in the future. Our African partners are there around the clock, eager to increase both their capacity and capability to deter counter-illicit trafficking and other illegal activities.
The continual development of maritime skills and enhancing relationships with our African partners plays a critical role in enhancing maritime security. This strategy focuses on building capabilities with our partners and facilitating regional integration so our partners can directly address challenges within their waters. They recognize the critical nature of protecting their natural resources so fishermen can maintain their livelihood; they acknowledge the need to interdict any and all flow of narcotics across their borders; and our partners understand that illicit trafficking of any kind should be viewed as a destabilizing factor if not addressed as a unified effort.
More than 90 percent of the world’s commerce travels by sea. When piracy threatens innocent lives and disrupts shipping traffic in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean; and when narcotics traffickers look to ferry illegal drugs across the oceans and into Africa for distribution across the globe; being there matters. America’s Navy is there, ensuring the free flow of global trade, helping to bolster our partner nation’s maritime domain awareness and natural resource security, and in turn, preserving America’s economic prosperity.
As part of APS engagements in Senegal, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Rear. Adm. Cheikh Bara Cissoko, the chief of the Senegalese Navy. Well-educated, well-traveled, and of course well-versed in maritime affairs, Adm. Cissoko is passionate about increasing the capacity of his forces to counter illicit trafficking activity. With thousands of miles of coastline to protect along Western Africa, a threat to any one country’s maritime and national security becomes a threat to all of these countries.
I also had the opportunity to work with members of the Liberian Coast Guard while operating off the coast of Monrovia. The Liberians – an extremely warm, engaging, and dedicated group of professionals – conducted several hours of familiarization training aboard Spearhead before using the ship’s RHIB for bilateral training with embarked members of the U.S. Marine Corps, demonstrating the joint, high-speed vessel’s operational capabilities within the maritime domain.
And most recently, as part of the past few weeks of the AMLEP program in Ghana, I was fortunate enough to partner with Ghanaian navy Capt. Eric Adu, who is currently assigned to Ghana’s Western Command Naval Base in Sekondi. We extensively discussed maritime security and governance as they related to Ghanaian waters, and the associated importance of deterring illicit fishing activities. While in Ghana, I also met with Paramount Chief of the Essikado Traditional Area Nana Kobina Nketsia V. Both a scholar and leader of his people, his passions hold to the importance of continuing to build a solid foundation upon which Ghana will build an enduring future.
When it comes to protecting and defending America, being there matters. And the U.S. Navy’s joint, high-speed vessel is already there.