ACCRA, Ghana (NNS) -- Gulf of Guinea nations held a planning conference July 23-25 to set in motion objectives and initial concepts for what will be the fourth iteration of Obangame Express, a multinational maritime exercise which is set to take place in spring 2014.
Obangame Express, one of four major U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet exercises in Africa, focuses on addressing common maritime issues through information sharing and coordinated operations among Gulf of Guinea navies.
Planning conference participants were welcomed to the conference by Ghana navy's chief of naval staff and the U.S. naval attache to Ghana, Togo and Benin. Both leaders emphasized the importance of cooperation and working together to ensure security at sea.
"I urge participating countries to own this process of cooperation," said Rear Adm. Geoffrey Mawuli Biekro, Ghana navy chief of staff. "The need for maritime security has increased. With the present state of affairs, the need for cooperation, especially within Obangame Express, cannot be over-emphasized."
The emphasis was also placed on utilizing already existing partnerships and infrastructure for greater cooperation.
"Obangame Express is now in its fourth year and we are building on cooperation and trust," said Cmdr. John Koon, naval attache to Ghana, Togo and Benin. "Maritime cooperation has recently been formalized and so have plans for a regional operation center. The next step is execution and Obangame Express will develop the interoperability between Gulf of Guinea countries to enhance maritime security in this region."
Held in Doula, Cameroon in February, Obangame Express 2013 brought together 12 ships from 10 countries to train on a number of maritime scenarios.
Obangame Express 2014 seeks to mirror the results of the most recent exercise, tailoring training even more closely to real-world events that have occurred this year.
In the wake of recent piracy events in the Gulf of Guinea, all conference participants acknowledge that combating maritime threats cannot be a unilateral effort.
"The maritime threat requires a regional solution and regional cooperation," said Lt. Cmdr. Jean Lackmata, a planning officer serving at the Cameroon navy headquarters. "It is only when assets are combined in joint operations that we can address the threats. And we hope to exercise these types of operations in Obangame Express."
Participating countries in the planning conference include Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivorie, Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Togo, and the United States.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/naveur/.