Philip Nwosu, Lagos
Six foreign warships and 12 Nigerian Navy combat vessels exhibited their prowess in international maritime policing in a joint multinational navies maneuver, code name EXERCISE EKU KUGBE, which was held at the Bight of Benin.
The Exercise which was concluded early Friday with a debrief staged to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the Nigerian Navy.
Flagging off the Exercise onboard the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) OKPABANA, Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, said that the maneuver was to promote regional cooperation, especially as it enjoys the support of other friendly navies beyond the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States regions.
“Twelve Nigerian Navy ships and one each from Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, China, France and Portugal participated in the exercise,” the naval chief said.
“The exercise is aimed at promoting regional cooperation and coordination for the enhancement of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea (GOG).”
The CNS said that the Gulf of Guinea was rich in both living and non-living resources, including oil and gas, and fisheries.
“It is also the primary conduit of international trade and is central to the economy of the associated regions.
“The gulf is increasingly looked upon today as a resource provider and critical contributor to national growth and prosperity of the several nations lining its coasts, and even those landlocked and with no shared boundaries,” he explained.
According to the naval chief, the Gulf of Guinea is faced with a myriad of potent threats in and around its environment, including maritime terrorism, resource theft and sabotage of their supporting infrastructure.
“Other notable threats are piracy and armed robbery which target maritime trade and, therefore, the economy of the nations.
“The use of unregulated movements at sea for seaborne trafficking in humans, narcotics and arms, and the incidents of smuggling, are pervasive and remain issues of grave concern.
“It is imperative that an environment conducive for the unhindered conduct of shipping, fishing and offshore exploration and other maritime interests that contribute vitally to economic growth and national development, is established,” Ibas noted.
The Exercise, which was led by Nigerian Navy frigate NNS OKPABANA, and supported NNS UNITY, saw also the deployment of Chinese guided-missile frigate Yancheng to Lagos to participate in the maneuver.
Yancheng, a People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 054A class frigate, is frequently deployed for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, near China’s military base in Djibouti. China recently built a new pier to accommodate its naval vessels at Djibouti, and its Ministry of Defense clarified to state media the improvement was for “anti-piracy work.”
China has a vested interest in halting piracy off Nigeria’s coast, as it is Nigeria’s second-biggest trading partner and imports nearly $1.5 billion worth of oil and gas per year.