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U.S. Navy Helps Africans Combat Piracy, Illegal Fishing
A U.S. Navy collaboration with African nations to counter seaborne threats such as piracy and illegal fishing, called the Africa Partnership Station (APS), has proved so successful it is being expanded, says Vice Admiral Harry Harris Jr. <br /> <br
A U.S. Navy collaboration with African nations to counter seaborne threats such as piracy and illegal fishing, called the Africa Partnership Station (APS), has proved so successful it is being expanded, says Vice Admiral Harry Harris Jr.

The Navy training program, begun in 2005 with just a handful of African nations and a few U.S. ships, is being increased to "more ships, more equipment, [and] more people...and 2010 promises to be the biggest year yet," Harris told journalists at a January 12, 2010 Foreign Press Center (FPC) briefing in Washington.

Vice Admiral Harris, deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Africa and Europe and NATO naval forces in the Mediterranean, helps oversee the APS program, which he said began when 11 Gulf of Guinea nations asked the U.S. military to help them counter piracy and illegal fishing in their waters.

Harris said, "African coastal states are contending with a wide range of challenges at sea, to include illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, oil theft, piracy, illicit trade, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, illegal immigration, environmental degradation, and all sorts of illegal and illegitimate activities."

To meet those threats, Harris said, APS is "improving maritime security and safety through collaborative partnerships. We've helped in the installation of the automatic information system, the AIS, for maritime domain awareness" and the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership, or the AMLEP program.

Since 2005, U.S. naval ships and sailors deployed to the APS program have trained thousands of African military personnel in seamanship, search-and-rescue operations, law enforcement, medical emergencies; environmental stewardship and small-boat maintenance, according to the APS Web site.

That training paid off in the Gulf of Guinea, Harris said, when Benin recently "conducted a counterpiracy operation where they took back a ship that had been captured by pirates. The chief of the Benin navy said later that his success, his navy's success, was directly attributable to the Africa Partnership Station and the efforts that we have expended in partnering with Benin and helping them improve their ability to get out counterpiracy operations."

On the continent, where it is estimated that $1 billion a year is lost to illegal fishing, Harris said, APS is making inroads through its law enforcement training program in Sierra Leone, where authorities "arrested four ships that were illegally fishing in their waters."

Now, said Harris, "we're seeing the full range of these partnerships blossom in the form of multiple deployments of large [U.S.] amphibious ships such as the USS Fort McHenry, the USS Nashville and the upcoming USS Gunston Hall deployment, as well as smaller ships such as the High-Speed Vessel Swift, the USS Robert Bradley … and the Coast Guard Cutter Legare, to name just a few."

In addition, for the first time, there will be a European component to the APS program, Harris said, in the form of the Netherlands naval ship Johan de Witt and the Belgian ship Godetia.

Harris explained that APS expansion will also include two new efforts: a hub concept for coastal Africa that "allows us to stay in a given port and bring regional partners to the ship for training and cooperative security operations" and a new operation in East Africa called APS East.

"This is the first time we've deployed a mission of this scale to the east coast of Africa," Harris said. "While still smaller than APS West, we have an international staff of about 15 folks from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Mauritius, and two ships dedicated to this mission. And as I speak, APS East today is in Mombasa, Kenya, training with Kenyans and other sailors from East Africa."

At the same time, Harris said, APS operations in West Africa, where the initiative began, will continue and be expanded. "In fact, the deputy commander of APS West for this next phase is a Nigerian navy captain."

"You have to build trust and confidence over time, and that is what APS has done" and will continue to do to promote maritime security and stability with its African partners, Harris concluded.

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