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Africa Outreach Includes Training, Humanitarian Aid
West and Central African nations are busy acquiring skills needed to oppose smugglers and pirates, protect revenues from illegal fish poachers and stem suffering from human trafficking.<br />
West and Central African nations are busy acquiring skills needed to oppose smugglers and pirates, protect revenues from illegal fish poachers and stem suffering from human trafficking. The international community has been helping address these common regional concerns, most recently through the Africa Partnership Station (APS) initiative, which has coalesced around a set of partners including France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, the United States, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. For several months, the USS Fort McHenry has been in the region, providing a floating platform to train maritime professionals from nine countries. Cameroonian sailors were early beneficiaries when they learned nonlethal weapon tactics aboard the ship during a course on how to be an effective armed sentry. The ship is making multiple visits to designated countries, including Senegal. Sao Tome requested operational medical training, leadership instruction for noncommissioned officers, and practice in firefighting and martial arts. Martial arts is not an odd choice, Spanish Marine Sergeant Marcos Leon Paez says, since it downplays aggression and teaches one to be "more collected and ... confident" while building character and emphasizing discipline. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard's International Training Division also joined the crew for a time to offer law enforcement skills to African sailors from Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal. The Navy even dispatched a submarine. The USS Annapolis made a port call in Cape Verde and brought aboard African sailors for periscope orientation and information-sharing. This is all part of a broader effort to provide greater military and civilian professional opportunities so Africans are better able to handle local crises independently. Former U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas told that the initiative "is concrete evidence that we really are serious" about building relationships with African nations that are relevant to maritime safety and security in their part of the world. But this array of issues, he adds, is much broader than simply naval since it relates to fisheries, trade and criminal activity. Chaveas, who is director of the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies, says the initiative "has been an outstanding effort so far," representing "tangible evidence that we really are building and sustaining these relationships." The Partnership training is bringing together Africans to train side by side in a shipboard classroom or out on the high seas, with special focus on topics such as small-boat operations, port security, engineering and preventive maintenance. U.S. Navy Captain John Nowell, who is the commander of the ship task force, says these students are highly motivated, eager to learn and keen to share experiences. French Lieutenant Commander Bertrand Daniel says the initiative is not solely a military mission, but one that takes "a larger view" of the continent and its requirements to be more secure, stable and prosperous. CIVILIAN TRAINING PART OF THE PACKAGE In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be training Africans to monitor their fishing industry aboard another ship that is in the area as part of the same mission, the high-speed vessel Swift. Its sailors recently repaired a NOAA buoy after it had been hit by another ship. The buoy collects climate research data in the Gulf of Guinea and the tropical Atlantic Ocean to predict hurricane paths destined for Africa, the Caribbean or the United States. During a stop in Ghana, the Swift will host a seminar in conjunction with NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab to promote African buoy and float research with time allotted for practical open-water exercises. The initiative embraces issues beyond maritime safety and security efforts. Some 20 humanitarian assistance projects are part of the package. The U.S. Agency for International Development is using the ship visits to work with nongovernmental organizations to reach communities in need. In Ghana, for example, USAID has partnered with Catholic Relief Services. Together with the Ghana Health Service, they have provided 180,000 meals or nutritional supplements to distribution centers. The U.S. Navy's Project Handclasp also has delivered beds to Sao Tome and Principe hospital patients and distributed 50 pairs of children's shoes during a string of port calls. Volunteers also worked in the Essikado Hospital in Takoradi, Ghana, where they built bookshelves and benches, fixed an ailing ambulance, put down fresh concrete and painted the outside of the building and its maternity ward. Another group conducted community outreach projects by painting classrooms in a Senegalese school. Building relationships has lighter moments, too â?- the APS Band recently entertained students in Gabon and U.S. and Gabonese soccer players mixed it up on a Port Gentile field. ( is the Department of State's diplomatic news service)