ATLANTIC OCEAN – Service members from the Belgian Navy and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) completed a week-long maritime law enforcement exercise with partners from the Cabo Verde Coast Guard (CVCG), Maritime Police (CVMP), and Judicial Police (CVJP) Oct. 31, 2016.
The major participating units in the exercise were the Belgian command and support ship BNS Godetia, the CVCG cutter Guardião, and a multiagency Cabo Verde10-person boarding team supported by USCG officers from U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) and USCG Tactical Law Enforcement Team South.
The exercise was the first cooperative event of the Belgian Navy’s Maritime Capacity Building (MCB) 16 deployment, conducted within the framework of Africa Partnership Station (APS), a NAVAF-initiated cooperative program that is celebrating 10 years of international efforts to improve maritime safety and security in Africa. The exercise took place in the waters around São Vicente and Santo Antão islands, the windward-most islands of Cabo Verde, an archipelagic nation stretching 500 miles from the westernmost point of Africa.
The highlight of the exercise was a boarding by the Cabo Verde Boarding Team (CVBT) of the simulated suspected drug smuggling vessel “Stefano”, played by one of the participating warships. After CVCG personnel secured the vessel, CVMP and CVJP agents conducted a comprehensive search. Upon finding irregularities in the ship’s documentation and contraband, “Stefano” was directed to port where it was handed over to Cabo Verde law enforcement authorities.
The exercise included information sharing and vessel tracking between Cabo Verde authorities and counter-narcotics agencies. For this purpose, a USCG officer and a Belgian Navy officer were embedded at the Cabo Verde multiagency Maritime Operations Coordination Centre (COSMAR) in the capital city of Praia. Exercise participants fed COSMAR with regular updates on the “Stefano”, and COSMAR used this information to coordinate the intercept and seizure.
Three other USCG officers, including experts on boarding tactics from Tactical Law Enforcement Team South, embarked aboard BNS Godetia to conduct classroom and hands-on exercises at sea designed to hone the skills of the CVBT. This three-day program culminated in a practice boarding of the CVCG Guardião, conducted from Godetia the day before the “Stefano” was intercepted.
Meanwhile, Godetia and Guardião conducted a rigorous two-day at-sea exercise program which included several search and rescue drills and a complex program of damage control training conducted by two of Godetia’s senior engineering personnel embarked in Guardião. As the Belgian Navy senior chief damage controlman who led the exercises said after spending two days at sea on the 150-foot long cutter with its 18-man crew, “they really know their ship and their equipment. I was very impressed by their willingness to learn and apply the advanced damage control techniques we demonstrated.”
Cabo Verde has contributed to APS since the program’s inception 10 years ago and plays an increasingly active role in maritime security in the Eastern Atlantic. The island nation sits astride major trafficking routes to Europe – drug smugglers from South America and human traffickers from mainland Africa attempt to use the islands as a mid-ocean transit point. Cabo Verde is also increasingly concerned about managing its living marine resources and about the depredations of illegal, unlicensed, and unregulated fishing by foreign fishing fleets.
In April, in a real life scenario reminiscent of the one used for this exercise, the Guardião intercepted a Brazilian fishing vessel more than 200 nautical miles off shore. The three-day operation, which also involved agents of the CVJP, resulted in the seizure of 280 kg of cocaine as well as the arrest of the U.S.-flagged sailing vessel to which the fishing boat was supposed to transfer the drugs and five suspected drug smugglers.
After returning to the port of Mindelo, the Belgian Navy hosted a press conference for local media outlets on board Godetia. CVCG Lt. Cmdr. Kahbi Pereira Batista, commanding officer of the Guardião, used the opportunity to highlight one of the major challenges facing maritime security agencies like his.
“We have to tell the people about the importance of the sea and the threats we face there. They need to understand why what we do is important. Even in an island nation, that’s sometimes difficult and we depend on the press to help tell that story.”
According to Cmdr. Chuck Ridgway, the NAVAF/APS Liaison Officer to MCB 16, exercises like this highlight the value of nations with common interests in maritime security working together to address threats coming from the sea.
“Cabo Verde has demonstrated what can be accomplished, despite limited means, when maritime professionals are determined to make their seas safe and protect their resources.”
MCB 16 will continue until the end of the calendar year, with additional maritime security exercises planned in the Gulf of Guinea with other African and European partners.