ACCRA, Ghana –
I am excited to be in Accra to speak during the International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (IMDEC) and join the Ghana Navy in celebrating its 60th anniversary. How else to commemorate 60 years of Loyalty, Devotion, and Excellence [Motto for the Ghana Navy] than by convening the inaugural conference that brings together maritime stakeholders from across this continent and others as well. It is important to recognize how far Ghana’s Navy has come since their inception in 1959. As such, I am honored to be in Ghana and joined by senior leaders who are committed to fostering security and progress in the maritime domain.
With its geographic advantage and highly capable navy, Ghana is an important partner for both the United States and other African nations. Our collective partnership with Ghana is critical to maintaining maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. The progress Ghana has made in the maritime domain over this last decade is evident year after year during joint exercises and operations with other African nations, and with European, North American, and South American partners.
The Ghana Navy is a leader in promoting interoperability, joint operations, and working with other regional law enforcement entities. This is not always easy, given the many military and civilian agencies that have a role in protecting the maritime domain. With a whole-of-government approach, however, Ghana has courageously and effectively enforced a moratorium on fishing and will suspend fishing activities for industrial trawlers during peak spawning season, from August 1 to September 30. This is significant for two reasons. First, it will help reverse the decline of Ghana’s fish stock. Second, combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing requires time, energy, and determination. In other words, enforcing the rule of law is important to security of the region. It is not easy. I applaud Ghana’s commitment to this important maritime mission.
Furthermore, Gulf of Guinea security is crucial to West Africa’s economic development, requiring the regional coast countries to have strong, professional navies, coast guards, and law enforcement institutions that can enable maritime trade to flourish. Seaborne trade is the lifeblood of global trade - when it flows unobstructed, economic development and opportunities thrive.
Given the size of the Gulf of Guinea, it is important that Ghana and the other coastal African nations of this vital region continue to work together to maintain maritime awareness and to counter illicit activity. Maritime security is a collective, team effort and cannot be accomplished by any one nation alone. At U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF), we strive to build on our combined success by working with African and European partnerships through regional engagements like IMDEC and exercises like Obangame Express, one of our three “Express” series exercises.
The amount of coordination required to execute Obangame Express 2019, more than 80 scenarios over the five maritime zones of the Yaounde Code of Conduct and spanning seven national military command centers and 19 maritime operation centers, was a massive undertaking, but together we delivered. I am excited and confident Ghana will do a superb job when it hosts the 2020 exercise. Obangame Express has evolved and increased in complexity from where we began in 2010, and I know it will continue to bring us together in 2020 with Ghana at the helm.
Through hard work, perseverance, and continued training with each other and European maritime teams, Ghana and our other Gulf of Guinea partners have increased their maritime domain awareness and ability to share information effectively and efficiently. Over the last decade, Gulf of Guinea nations have steadily increased their capability of working together and sharing information, even as pirates and other malign actors have tried to exploit the seams by operating across different territorial waters. Now regional interoperability is disrupting such actors from conducting their illicit activities. The coastal nations developed and signed the Yaounde Code of Conduct in 2013 – a key agreement to improve interoperability. This powerful and useful framework established objectives and enhanced inter-coastal relationships and joint capabilities that have resulted in a decline in illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea.
This highlights the importance of IMDEC, hosted in Ghana this week, and why we celebrate with our Ghanaian navy counterparts, while continuing to look forward to identify new ways to cooperate and strengthen the bonds between those operating together in the region. We can take a moment to marvel at how far we have come in nine years as a collective maritime force and contemplate further progress we can make when working together with our partners and allies across the Gulf of Guinea, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America.
In addition to hosting the IMDEC, Ghana also welcomed Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7), July 20. The ship is deployed to the Gulf of Guinea in support of Africa Partnership Station (APS), demonstrating progress through partnership and U.S. commitment to West African countries through small boat maintenance assistance, maritime law enforcement engagement, and medical and community relations outreach, which includes port visits in Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cabo Verde. The steady presence of ships like Carson City and recent the recent visit by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Thetis demonstrate our commitment.
These efforts also highlight our common goal of enhancing maritime security and strengthening the vital institutions that enable economic growth throughout the Gulf of Guinea. As the leaders in Ghana know, policing waters is more than just catching pirates or stopping illegal fishing; it’s a sovereignty issue, and it’s the only way to preserve freedom of navigation and maintain precious resources for future generations. As one of my African friends said, “No shipping means no shopping.”
This visit will reinforce our partnership with Ghana, and lead to many future joint efforts to enhance security and stability in the Gulf of Guinea. I congratulate my friend Rear Admiral Seth Amoama, the Ghanaian Navy and the people of Ghana, on 60 years of naval excellence and sponsoring what will surely be a successful IMDEC forum.