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Spearhead Completes APS Mission in West Africa

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS160506-05
Release Date: 5/6/2016 10:10:00 AM

From U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Public Afairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- The Navy's first expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1), returned to her homeport, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia, May 5.

Spearhead departed Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story Dec.29, 2015 to participate in Africa Partnership Station 2016. This was the third deployment for Spearhead in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.


"It was a privilege having the opportunity to work alongside our African partner nations in the Gulf of Guinea and as the APS mission commander I had the privilege to work with the Military Sealift Command civil service mariners, U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment (LEDET), U.S., Spanish and Royal Marines, and sailors with a wide variety of skill sets and backgrounds. The relationships established and trust forged during this deployment is a testament to the dedication that we and our partners have in ensuring that those involved in illegal activity will be held accountable." - Cmdr. Tim Ferracci, Africa Partnership Station 2016 mission commander

"This deployment was a rewarding experience serving in the Gulf of Guinea and significantly impacting the improvement of regional stability and interoperability between partner nations across the maritime theater. The training and support we provided to our partner nations in Maritime Law Enforcement and Security Operations was well received and will ensure continued progression of our African partners to protect the rich and bountiful marine environment that is the Gulf of Guinea." - Todd R. Kutkiewicz, USNS Spearhead chief mate

"Working with the different Western African nations highlighted the impact our forces have had during previous missions. Providing these countries the tools and training to control their Exclusive Economic Zones will undoubtedly have a positive impact on their local economies. The mission instilled a strong sense of pride in the entire crew, knowing we accomplished our mission of helping the people of Western Africa." - Lt. Cmdr. Michael Webb, African Partnership Station 2016, deputy mission commander

Quick Facts:

Spearhead and its crew of nearly 100 U.S. Navy detachment and civil service mariners conducted maritime operations in the Gulf of Guinea and made port call visits to Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Senegal and Spain.

A U.S. Coast Guard LEDET embarked Spearhead in support of Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership 2016. AMLEP is companion to and nested within APS and seeks to build maritime security capacity in order to increase maritime safety and security.

The LEDET's training curriculum with Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal during AMLEP included basic first aid, pressure point and escort training, defense tactics, rescue and survival gear, and weapon safety.

The U.S. Coast Guard and participating partner nations conducted six fishing vessel boardings, one of which resulted in a return-to-port order for suspected fishing violations.

Spearhead was essential in counterpiracy operations that liberated motor tanker Maximus. While conducting AMLEP, Spearhead received real world information regarding a tanker in the area that was attacked by a suspected pirate vessel. Through the forward looking infrared system and visual imagery, Spearhead confirmed the ship matched the description of the hijacked vessel. The ship's crew tracked the vessel before handing it off to the Ghanaian Navy vessel Naa Gbewaa, who were able to positively identify Maximus.

Improved maritime agreements, coordination and communication between Benin, Ghana, Nigerian, Togo and U.S. navies allowed Maximus to be tracked and handed off as it crossed borders while transiting to Nigeria, resulting in the Nigerian Navy executing the first non-compliant boarding in West Africa.

During Obangame/Saharan Express 2016, the Gabon Navy conducted 5 simulated scenario boarding exercises aboard USNS Spearhead to test the boarding teams' abilities to conduct maritime interdiction operations to detect illicit activity and a cross-deck event with RFA Gold Rover.

Previously separate exercises that took place in different areas of Africa, Obangame and Saharan Express were combined this year to synchronize efforts to implement the Yaounde Code of Conduct and Multilateral Maritime Zone Agreements across the Economic Community of West African States and Economic Community of Central African States nations. Both Obangame/Saharan Express were in their sixth iteration.

AMLEP is a multiphased effort with the lower-tiered phases consisting of maritime governance framework to conduct combined law enforcement operations. AMLEP's end goal is for an African partner to be able to conduct law enforcement operations independently of U.S. efforts.

This year the Spearhead team's participation in AMLEP operations with Ghana led to two law enforcement boardings, resulting in several maritime law enforcement violations to include operating in a restricted area. These vessels received return-to-port orders and were transferred to the Ghana Navy.

This was the first year of AMLEP with Cameroon. The Spearhead team alongside members of the partner nation completed four law enforcement boardings resulting in six violations of Cameroon's laws.

Obangame/Saharan Express (OE/SE) exercise is part of a comprehensive strategy by CNE-CNA/C6F and AFRICOM to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners that addresses maritime security concerns.

OE/SE16 was conducted in multiple areas at sea and ashore. At-sea operations were conducted throughout the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa. The exercise lasted 12 days.

There were 32 participating nations in Obangame/Saharan Express 2016 to include Angola, Benin, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Morrocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Togo, Turkey, United States, and the United Kingdom, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

While in Libreville, Gabon, the embarked U.S. Marine Corps detachment conducted tactical training alongside the British Royal Marines and Spanish Marines with Gabonese maritime forces aboard Spearhead consisting of weapons handling, close quarters battle, and patrolling tactics.

Spearhead's crew participated in a community relations (COMREL) project, working side-by-side with Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 133 in Libreville, Gabon. The COMREL project was conducted at a local orphanage and consisted of painting dormitories, constructing shelving systems and repairing window screens.

The Spearhead crew and embarked military detachment hosted over 150 host nation embassy personnel and 20 Gabonese military personnel for ship tours and provided media training to nine military officials.

U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied, joint, and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.

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