RCN participates in Obangame Express 2018

Military members walk behind a man in civilian clothes.
Members of the Ghana Navy Ship AGOU escort a member of Her Majesty's Canadian Ship (HMCS) SUMMERSIDE while he performs as an actor for Obangame Express during OP PROJECTION west Africa off the coast of west Africa, Atlantic Ocean on March 22nd, 2018. Photo Credit: Able Seaman (AS) John Iglesias Formation Imaging Services

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By: Lieutenant (Navy) Linda Coleman, Operation PROJECTION Public Affairs Officer

Two Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) warships patrol the calm seas in the Gulf of Guinea. A crew member cries, “Boats crews and lowerers close up, prepare to launch the RHIB!” This is the signal that the latest exercise for Obangame Express has started, and Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Kingston and HMCS Summerside are preparing to receive a boarding party from a West African partner navy. They launch a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) as a safety precaution.

A ship can be seen in the distance, and it is hailing the RCN warship. “This is the Guinean Navy, what are you doing here?” The RCN does not respond after several hails, prompting the Guinean Navy to prepare for boarding.

As the Guinean Navy launches their boarding party boat, 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 Exercise Obangame Express.

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

From March 22 to 27, 2018, HMCS Kingston and Summerside participated in the exercise, conducting counter-piracy, counter-narcotic and illegal fishing scenarios with navies from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Assessors from countries such as the Belgium, Canada, and the Netherlands also participated to monitor and mentor 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 this iteration of Operation PROJECTION. “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 Royal Canadian Navy 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. It worked with the navies of Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia to build capacity and 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.

From land, a Canadian Maritime Operations Center (MOC) mentorship team also participated in Obangame Express. 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. It has been a great learning experience on both sides.”

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.”

HMCS Kingston and HMCS Summerside were deployed to West Africa as part of Operation 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 West Africa region to continue building relationships and promoting maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.

Image gallery

  • View of ship on water through round window.
  • Group of sailors talking on deck of ship.
  • Group of sailors, some in life jackets, talking inside a ship.
  • Two small boats on the water.
  • Military members walk behind a man in civilian clothes.
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