RCN participates in OBANGAME EXPRESS 2018

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Navy News / April 12, 2018

Two Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) warships are patrolling calm seas in the Gulf of Guinea. A pipe is made: “Boats crews and lowerers close up, prepare to launch the RHIB!”

This is the signal that this year’s iteration of Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS has started and Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Kingston and Summerside are preparing to receive a boarding party from a West African partner navy. A rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) is launched as a safety precaution.

A ship can be seen in the distance and it’s hailing the RCN warship. “This is the Guinean Navy, what are you doing here?”

The RCN doesn’t respond after several hails, prompting the Guinean Navy to escalate for a boarding.

As the Guinean Navy launches their boarding party boat, crew members of HMCS Summerside identified as actors to play pirates, drug runners or illegal fishermen dressed in civilian clothing, prepare to receive the boarding party and play their role. The Operations Officer stands close by to monitor and ensure the scenario is being played out properly as the boarding party applies boarding tactics and procedures throughout the ship.

This is OBANGAME EXPRESS.

Led by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, the exercise is designed to improve cooperation among participating nations and strengthen maritime interdiction operations in order to increase maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea – an area that is seeing increased illegal maritime activity lately.

From March 22 to 27, 2018, Kingston and Summerside participated in the exercise, conducting counter-piracy, counter-narcotics and illegal fishing scenarios with navies from Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Assessors from countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada monitored and mentored the West African boarding teams.

“OBANGAME EXPRESS offered a great opportunity for like-minded navies to work together towards increasing interoperability and maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea,” said Lieutenant-Commander Matt Woodburn, Commanding Officer of HMCS Kingston and Task Force Commander for Operation PROJECTION 18-03. “Participating helps us develop a greater knowledge and understanding of the operating conditions within the West Africa Gulf of Guinea region, which is an area the RCN will strive to operate in and continue to build upon the relationships and foundations established to date.”

The RCN’s Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG), an enhanced naval boarding party capability, also participated in OBANGAME EXPRESS by conducting a combined Canadian, Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia capacity building engagement to further develop professional relationships. MTOG provided mentoring at the tactical and operational level, exchanged low-level tactics, techniques and procedures, and acted as board, search and seizure assessors.

In addition to the at-sea naval assets, a Canadian Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) mentorship team participated in OBANGAME EXPRESS from land. Canadian liaison officers worked from MOCs in Gabon, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone to mentor and test the participating nations’ abilities to share information and improve cooperation – a critical component for a successful MOC.

Interacting with West African navies is still very new for the RCN. “This was my first time participating with West African countries,” said Sub-Lieutenant Steven Gallant, bridge watch keeper in HMCS Summerside. “Working with the West African boarding teams has been an eye opening experience as their methods and procedures differ greatly from ours. Where their navies are still developing, it is clear that exercises such as OBANGAME EXPRESS are adding a lot of training value for them.”

Last year, Lieutenant-Commander Emily Lambert was deployed to the MOC in Sierra Leone during OBANGAME EXPRESS 2017. Now the Commanding Officer of HMCS Summerside, she ran into Sierra Leone Navy members she met at the MOC last year during their boarding exercise in her ship.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in OBANGAME EXPRESS two years in a row,” she said. “The friendships I developed  last year in Sierra Leone as an MOC advisor for the RCN were solidified this year when I had the pleasure of seeing some of the same members from the Sierra Leone MOC as part of the boarding team onboard HMCS Summerside. This demonstrates that the relationship building with partner navies that OBANGAME EXPRESS is aimed to improve upon is working, and I hope to participate again in the future.”

Kingston and Summerside were deployed to West Africa as part of Op PROJECTION, a strategic engagement with regional nations to support capacity building and foster relationships with partner navies. The RCN has committed another three to five years of deploying to the area to continue building relationships in the West Africa region, and promoting maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.