OBANGAME EXPRESS 19: The Royal Canadian Navy contributes to African maritime security

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Navy News / March 25, 2019

Lieutenant(N) Jeff Lura

On the morning of March 16, 2019, a fisheries officer from Cote d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) boarded Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Kingston, at sea in the Gulf of Guinea. Escorted by sailors of the Marine Nationale du Cote d’Ivoire, he wore a no-nonsense expression as he approached a table littered with documents.

“You’re the Captain?” he asked the sailor seated at the table.

“I am,” the sailor replied. “We are simple fishermen.”

“May I see your license to fish here, then?” the officer inquired, eyeing the sailor suspiciously.

“We cannot find it,” answered the sailor, “I’m sure it’s around here somewhere, though.”

Following a detailed cargo inspection, the voice of an Ivorian patrol boat commander blared over Kingston’s bridge radio: “You are suspected of violating numerous laws…your ship will follow ours into the port of Abidjan for additional verifications.”

Of course, HMCS Kingston is not a fishing vessel, and the ship’s crew had done nothing wrong. This was simply one of the many scenarios that made up OBANGAME EXPRESS 19.

Organized by the United States Africa Command, OBANGAME EXPRESS is Africa’s largest maritime security engagement. It brings together personnel from more than 20 countries, with the goal of increasing cooperation and improving security in the Gulf of Guinea region.

At home, Canada’s Navy plays a key role in monitoring maritime approaches and ensuring the security of Canadian waters; as a result, deployed personnel arrived in Africa with a wealth of knowledge to share. At sea, HMCS Kingston and HMCS Shawinigan participated in simulated law-enforcement scenarios, boardings, tracking exercises, and searches. Members of the Naval Tactical Operations Group (NTOG) worked alongside their African colleagues, providing valuable maritime interdiction guidance. In shore-based Maritime Operations Centres, a team of Canadian officers mentored regional authorities in coordinating and monitoring activity in local waters. Throughout OBANGAME EXPRESS 19, the Royal Canadian Navy’s ensign - whether displayed on a uniform or flying from a ship’s mast – was always nearby.

“Working with our partners here in West Africa is a totally new experience for me,” said Lieutenant-Commander Jeremy Samson, Commanding Officer of HMCS Kingston.

“We have a lot of knowledge and experience to share with local forces, but we’re also learning quite a bit.”

A regular participant, this was the third OBANGAME EXPRESS for Master Seaman Bassam Mothana, Kingston’s Weapons Engineering Technician. According to him, there has been an obvious evolution since 2017.

“During the first OBANGAME, exercises took a bit longer,” he explained.

“Now, everyone hits the deck running due to skills gained and improved through training. It’s really rewarding to see that our efforts are making a difference.”

Obangame means togetherness in the African Fang language, and sums up the engagement perfectly. Every scenario and activity that took place during OBANGAME EXPRESS 19 featured partners from different nations working together toward a common goal. At the center of many of these scenarios were Canadian sailors, proudly doing their part to contribute to a safer Gulf of Guinea.