RCN completes Obangame Express 17 in West Africa

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Navy News / April 7, 2017

By Lieutenant-Commander Kelly Williamson

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) recently concluded participation in Obangame Express 17, a 12-day, U.S. Naval Forces Africa-led training event with more than 20 maritime security partners in West Africa.

The RCN sent a contingent of approximately 95 personnel, including Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Summerside and Moncton and a detachment of personnel from the Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG), along with liaison officers and a forward logistics team deployed throughout the region in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire.

 “Canada’s contribution of two ships, liaison officers and MTOG mentors in support of Obangame Express 17 (OE 17) contributed significantly to exercise success by allowing more opportunities for complex, challenging scenarios conducted at sea,” said U.S. Commodore Heidi Agle, the officer in tactical command of OE 17.

OE 17 provided the RCN with an opportunity to strengthen and foster ties with partners in the Gulf of Guinea, while enhancing maritime domain awareness related to the challenges of maritime security in the region.

MTOG’s primary objective was to mentor and guide partners in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Training began alongside and progressed to more complex at-sea scenarios.

MTOG deployed personnel to work with the Liberian Coast Guard in Monrovia, Liberia, and to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they worked with the Joint Maritime Committee, Fisheries Inspection and Boarding Team. MTOG used the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience in maritime interdiction and visit, board, search and seizure operations, to provide the Liberian Coast Guard and Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) with guidance that can be adapted to the operational realities of West Africa.

The at-sea phase provided members of the Liberian Coast Guard and RSLAF boarding teams with an opportunity to test newly acquired knowledge and to put skills to the test.

“In Freetown, we worked with the RSLAF on tactical movement, planning, command and control, as well combined operations with foreign navies. The team based in Liberia took a similar approach,” said Lieutenant-Commander Will Lund, Commanding Officer of MTOG. “We’ve seen a huge improvement over the past week and we learned a lot from them as well, particularly with respect to the challenges they confront. We have tremendous respect for these guys.”

Underway at sea, HMCS Summerside worked with partners from the navies of Morocco and Senegal, while HMCS Moncton worked closely with the Liberian Coast Guard.

“Obangame Express was a great opportunity for Summerside and Moncton as well,” said Lieutenant (Navy) Stephanie Murray, Operations Officer onboard HMCS Summerside. “It provided us with an opportunity to work with a number of regional partners and it was interesting to see how other navies operate. Regional partners are delivering operational effects in the maritime domain, despite a number of constraints. Obangame Express provided us all with a valuable experience that will help improve coordination, cooperation and maritime security in the region.”

The RCN also embedded liaison officers into the Exercise Control Group Headquarters, one of five Obangame Express Regional Exercise Control Groups, and into two Maritime Operations Centres (MOCs), one in Liberia, the other in Sierra Leone.

LCdr Rob Tucker, the lead National Liaison Officer for Canada based in the Exercise Control Group Headquarters in Abdijan, Cote D’Ivoire, said: “The relationships developed during Obangame Express will be the building blocks from which we will work to improve international maritime domain awareness in the future. It is extremely satisfying to watch our West African partners enhance their ability to coordinate operations with one another.”

“Obangame Express 17 was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Lt (N) Phil Ramsey, Canada’s liaison officer based at the Liberian Coast Guard Operations Centre in Monrovia, Liberia. “Events like this provide members of the RCN with an opportunity to share our skills and professional abilities with our partners.”

LCdr Emily Lambert, the RCN Liaison Officer based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, agrees. “It was such a great opportunity to come to West Africa and to work with regional partners. Obangame Express provided us with an opportunity to learn about the region, while building relationships that will enhance cooperation and coordination. During the training we delivered lectures on topics including rules of engagement and command and control, and provided injects to our respective operations centres that helped drive the scenario forward, encouraging coordination and cooperation at the local and regional level.”

In its eighth year, Obangame Express 17 concluded on March 30. HMC Ships Summerside and Moncton remain deployed in the region on NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-01, the RCN’s overarching engagement in West Africa, through early May.