WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy's senior commander in Europe and Africa attended a media availability at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., Sept. 14.
At the event, Adm. Mark P. Fitzgerald, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe; commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa; and commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, said the world's second largest and second most-populous continent is experiencing unparalleled success in enhancing stability, securing freedom of navigation and supporting the Maritime Strategy.
Fitzgerald emphasized the Navy's Africa Partnership Station (APS) initiative as an example of the Navy's holistic approach to enhance maritime security around the world.
"Building partner capacity is a core element of our efforts at Naval Forces Europe and Africa," said Fitzgerald. "When we collaborate with our partners, a wide array of mariners benefit from our actions. We have seen tremendous growth in the capabilities of our partners and allies in understanding maritime safety and security. If we help others build their skills, there is less likelihood we will need to respond with ours."
Fitzgerald added that APS has given rise to a variety of enduring capacity-building activities that are supported by mission-tailored rotational forces, a concept directly supporting the Maritime Strategy.
"We first started using personnel; we started building capacities and people were doing simple things like fixing outboard engines or understanding how to do maritime interception boardings," said Fitzgerald. "We then gradually moved to the point where partner navies are actually patrolling and intercepting."
Fitzgerald stressed that U.S. service members and their allied counterparts actively engaged in combating counter-piracy operations and other irregular and transnational threats during APS.
"The U.S. Coast Guard has taught interception operations and maritime boardings, and we have seen some of the countries now being able to go out and patrol their economic exclusion zone and stop illegal fishing," said Fitzgerald. "We've seen other countries stop some of the drugs coming across from South America. We've seen Nigeria establish a regional maritime awareness center through which they tracked and found a ship that was bringing hazardous waste to be dumped in Nigeria. They actually stopped the ship, ticketed it, got a fine from it and sent it on its way."
Fitzgerald also said APS, now in its fifth iteration, is netting results in all aspects of Maritime Strategy support.
"We are growing in capacity and capability down there and while it won't happen overnight, we're seeing real marked progress in what's happening in the Gulf of Guinea," said Fitzgerald.
The admiral added that the successful APS operations, training evolutions and real-world contingency operations are a direct reflection of the expertise, dedication and significant knowledge base of partner nations, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Energy, the State Department and representatives from several European nations.
Fitzgerald also said navy ships from the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Spain have participated, and while not operating under the APS banner, French vessels cooperate with operations in the Naval Forces Africa Area of Responsibility (AOR).
"It is a real team effort," said Fitzgerald. "The African nations really appreciate it, and they also participate on the staff, giving a very international flavor to the effort and allowing us access to the countries without fear of them thinking this is a colonial kind of endeavor."
Fitzgerald added that countering piracy and ensuring transnational waterways remain safe for merchant vessels transiting the area remains a top priority for APS.
"Piracy is a problem through all of Africa, and APS has done a lot of coalition building," said Fitzgerald. "Countries that participate coordinate their activities in the Gulf of Guinea, and we work with those nations to try to teach them the best practices to help them understand how to deal with this kind of piracy."
The admiral added that while the bulk of APS operations center around ensuring safe water transit through the APS AOR is paramount, the numerous humanitarian outreach, assistance and disaster relief operations in which APS personnel are involved directly represent the willingness, capability and sense of community the partnership strives to employ.
"It is not enough to go down there with the training of the Navy," said Fitzgerald. "You have to also have the professionals supporting ashore. We have helped build a lot of infrastructure and brought medical training. We put doctors ashore at local clinics where they teach [African] doctors and nurses the best practices, and we give them supplies so they have the right medicines to treat people."
Fitzgerald said the initiative continues to grow, and U.S. Sailors and APS partners have forged an evolving alliance.
"It has been a great effort," said Fitzgerald. "I think the countries of the Gulf really have confidence in what we are bringing to them."
APS is an international initiative developed by Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Africa, aiming to improve maritime safety and security in West and Central Africa.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/naveur/.