With support from Project AGWE – implemented by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) – the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Army conducted an expertise exchange on forensics collection, combat defensive tactics, and first aid with partners from Benin, Nigeria, and Togo at the Joint Maritime Security Training Center (JMSTC) during exercise Obangame Express 23 (OE23), the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western Africa, Jan. 25, 2023.
INTERPOL’s Project AGWE focuses on building capacities in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo to counter more effectively all forms of maritime-based crime in the Gulf of Guinea.
Nigerian Forensics Police Officer Samuel Odeh, national expert who has been trained and certified by INTERPOL in the framework of Project AGWE, was among the participants. Odeh also served as the lead crime scene instructor during the expertise exchange and taught lessons on investigation practices, evidence collection and arrest procedures.
“Piracy and hostage taking are prevalent maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea. We are working with the Nigerian Government to enact a law that will allow these crimes to be prosecuted, and for other Gulf of Guinea nations to transfer custody to Nigeria, if they do not have established laws in their own country,” said Odeh.
The Nigerian Navy established a dedicated Maritime Crime Investigation Desk in Abuja, which provides biometrics of suspects for cross-checking against INTERPOL’s databases.
INL also provides foreign assistance to international partners, including several Gulf of Guinea nations, to combat illicit crimes at-sea.
Craig Nixon, INL maritime security advisor based in Lagos, works closely with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Nigeria’s federal counter-narcotics police agency, to counter piracy, smuggling, and wildlife trafficking in the Gulf of Guinea. Nixon attended the expertise exchange on crime scene management and guided cooperation discussions between participants.
“The crime scene preservation and management instruction is designed to teach not only how to identify crimes, but how to prosecute them. We need evidenced-based prosecution to bring perpetrators into the judicial system,” said Nixon. “Exercise Obangame Express is a force multiplier. What they are learning today will further the law enforcement and prosecution efforts for these types of crimes.”
Alongside African partners, U.S. service members also participated in practical demonstrations on combat defense tactics and life-saving medical care under fire.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt.j.g. Nicholas Didiano led a simulated vessel boarding on a Nigerian Navy small patrol craft. The demonstration rehearsed vessel entry, clearing and securing, and arrest techniques.
“The exercise is important because it allows forces to learn how to protect themselves and protect their units and boarding teams. If they encounter any kind of illicit activity, they’ll be better prepared for the risk and threat at hand,” said Didiano.
African partners found the expertise exchange and practical demonstrations helpful for operations that they conduct with their respective nations.
“This exercise is very interesting - rehearsing some methods we already know, while learning new techniques is incredibly helpful on a practical side,” said Maitre Major (MTM) Hermann Houngue, Benin Navy. “Especially the self defense techniques - you have to know them, to protect yourself, to do your job - I can’t stress how important it is in a very practical way.”
OE23, one of three U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) - facilitated regional exercises, provides collaborative opportunities for African and U.S. forces, and international partners to address shared transnational maritime concerns. NAVAF’s ongoing maritime security cooperation with African partners focuses on overcoming the challenges of maritime safety and security in the region.
The exercise takes place across five zones in the southern Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Guinea – stretching from the West African island of Cabo Verde to the Central African shores of Angola, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
The U.S. shares a common interest with African partner nations in ensuring security, safety, and freedom of navigation on the waters surrounding the continent, because these waters are critical for Africa’s prosperity and access to global markets.
For more than 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.