By Shawn Eklund
– February 22, 2016Posted in: Africa, News - Africa, Press Releases Africa
The following is a situational update from Commodore, Military Sealift Command Europe-Africa; Commander, Task Force 63, Capt. Heidi Agle. It was prepared after Ghanaian and coalition partners tracked and trailed a potential pirate vessel through Ghana’s territorial waters 12-14 February.
Background: U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa conducted Operation Junction Rain (the operational phase of the multi-phase Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) Program) with Ghana Navy, Marine Police and Joint Fisheries Enforcement Unit (JFEU) personnel 3-14 February 2016. U.S. and Partner nation forces conducted combined Law Enforcement Operations in Ghana’s territorial waters (TTW) and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to build maritime security capacity and increase maritime domain awareness (MDA). U.S. and partner nation forces executed combined Law Enforcement boarding operations to enforce maritime law and deter illegal activity.
Participating Forces: Ghana navy, Marine Police, Joint Fisheries Enforcement Unit (JFEU), USCG LEDET, USN personnel embarked on USNS Spearhead (T-EPF-1).
Sequence of events:
09 Feb French Embassy to Ghana began to pass Spearhead (through the Ghana MOC and U.S. Embassy) info on a potential pirate vessel transiting west through the Ghanaian EEZ enroute to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to set up for potential piracy cases.
09-10 Feb Spearhead working with the Ghanaian Western Naval Command (WNC) Maritime Operations Center (MOC), French and U.S. Embassy attempted to locate the M/V Smooft Bonds while it was transiting west through the Ghanaian EEZ with NEGRES.
11 Feb French Embassy notified Spearhead through Ghana WNC MOC the suspect pirate vessel (Smooft Bonds) was loitering south of the port of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire setting up to attack a vessel in vicinity of the port.
12 Feb French Embassy notified Spearhead through Ghana WNC MOC the suspect pirate vessel (Smooft Bonds) attacked the M/T Maximus 11 Feb at 2000z, 76 NM South of Abidjan. French Embassy confirmed the presence of pirates onboard the M/T MAXIMUS and state the pirates are trying to sail back to Nigeria. Fifteen crew safe in citadel room, five crew did not make it to the citadel room.
12 Feb 1130Z Spearhead tasked by 6th Fleet to locate and track the M/T Maximus.
12 Feb 2300Z based on dead reckoning and positions passed by the French Embassy, Spearhead sighted what it believed to be M/T Maximus on radar at 40NM.
13 Feb 1000Z closed to the directed standoff distance of 3NM of M/T Maximus in order to visually ID. Unable to confirm ship name due to distance and haze. Able to confirm ship matched description in photos. High confidence that vessel was M/T Maximus.
13 Feb Tracked M/T Maximus and passed position to Ghana WNC and ENC MOCs. Ghanaian navy vessel Naa Gbewaa enroute to relieve Spearhead of vessel escort.
13 Feb Spearhead departed scene for port call and turned over vessel escort to Ghana navy vessel Naa Gbewaa.
14 Feb Naa Gbewaa on scene with M/T Maximus and intends to query and escort vessel through Ghana EEZ for handoff to Togo Navy at EEZ boundary.
***This case highlights the successful communications between Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo Embassies/MOCs as well as coordination with their Navy and USNS Spearhead. The French Embassy tracked the vessel for at least a week prior and attempted to coordinate an interdiction prior to the pirate attack with Ghana and Togo navies. Once the pirates attack, communication flowed through all MOCs and underway assets that allowed accurate tracking and successful handoff of the vessel.
-U.S. Africa Command and U.S Naval Forces Africa have worked with Ghana since 2014 by utilizing a USCG Law Enforcement Detachment aboard a U.S. Naval vessel to support an embarked Ghana law enforcement detachment.
-Ghana continues to demonstrate capability improvements as witnessed over these the last years of operations.
-Operational results always vary due to external factors of weather and maritime activity.
The following are the historical results to date:
-(2014) Four boardings were conducted w/ seven fisheries violations noted on three of the boardings.
-(2015) Six boardings were conducted w/ six fisheries violations noted on three of the boardings.
-(2016) Two boarding conducted to date w/ one fisheries violation noted on one of the boardings.
-Ghana credits AMLEP/OJR with preparing their teams that supported an independent Ghanaian take down of a pirated vessel in 2015.
- During the course of operations, interagency coordination and synchronization resulted in the successful location, tracking, monitoring and hand off of MT Maximus
- Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) support: Limited visibility (due to Harmattan) hindered Ghanaian Air Force ability to support
-MPRA would have been beneficial for confirming identify of M/T Maximus
- Communications between French Embassy, U.S. Embassy, Western Naval Command MOC, Eastern Naval Command MOC, and Spearhead were outstanding. All Partners Access Network chat was instrumental to communicating with Ghana Navy for status updates of Maximus position and their Navy vessels position.
- Spearhead could not identify vessel by name at 3 nautical miles.
- Handoff to Ghana Navy worked well and Maximus location was known at all times during its transit through the Ghana EEZ.