The Ghanaian Naval Ship Anzone, front, and the GNS Achimotaz follow astern of the USS Gunston Hall while participating in training as part of West African Training Cruise ‘06 in the Gulf of Guinea, Oct. 20, 2005 . . . .participating West African nations of Ghana, Senegal, Guinea and Morocco . . . U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steve Faulisi
Peter Pham writes in World Defense Review about securing the new strategic gulf. His assessment leaves no doubt as to the nature of US interests. Increasingly the oil from the Gulf of Guinea is found in deep water off shore locations. To protect oil interests, the US wants a naval presence.
. . . this past March, Nigeria edged past Saudi Arabia to become our third largest supplier, delivering 41,717,000 barrels of oil to the desert kingdom’s 38,557,000.
When one adds Angola’s 22,542,000 barrels to the former figure, the two African states alone now supply more of America’s energy needs than Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates combined.
This is all the more remarkable when one considers that, as I reported in this column three weeks ago, the militant activities of the relatively small Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) over the course of the last eighteen months has “had the cumulative affect of cutting Nigeria’s total oil production by almost one-third.”
Yet for all its global importance as well as strategic significance for U.S. national interests, the Gulf of Guinea has seen comparatively few resources poured into maritime security, a deficit which only worsens when one considers the scale of the area in question and the magnitude of the challenges faced. Depending on how one chooses to define the gulf region, it encompasses roughly a dozen countries with nearly 3,500 miles of coastline running in an arc from West Africa to Angola.
Pham is concerned about international groups like al-Qaeda, replaying the usual themes of terrorism and oil. There are other security issues in the Gulf. Piracy is one, in the form of armed robbery against ships, mostly off the coast of Nigeria. Criminal enterprises are another, mostly tapping oil pipelines and stealing oil, and an escalating drug trade. Poaching is the third, mostly illegal and unlicensed fishing from commercial trawlers, damaging both the fishing business and the eco-system.
The US Navy is planning a more or less permanent presence in the Gulf of Guinea:
“We’re getting a large-volume ship,” Ulrich explained to reporters, “and loading it with expertise — training teams — and we’re going to go down to the Gulf of Guinea and work the 11 Gulf of Guinea nations and build maritime capability and capacity. The ship is a platform that holds the training teams and the students, visiting the countries, bringing the students together and improving on their knowledge skills and ability so that they can provide for their own maritime safety and security.”
Plans are not yet finalized, but the ship is likely to be the landing ship dock Fort McHenry, based at Little Creek, Va., as part of the Atlantic Fleet. Amphibious ships like the Fort McHenry are designed to carry more than 400 Marines, as well as cargo, vehicles, landing craft and aircraft.
. . .
Current plans envision the Fort McHenry working a circuit, traveling between Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, São Tomé and Principe, Gabon and Angola. Training and support teams would be dropped off and picked up at each stop, spreading the deployment’s expertise around the area.
Prominently left out of current plans for the deployment is Nigeria, the region’s top oil-producer but the scene over recent years of ongoing strife and corruption.
Ambassador Peter Chaveas, director of the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), noted the importance of Nigeria as part of a successful GFS effort.
“If you’re going to address the issues of maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea you simply can’t do it without Nigeria,” he told reporters. “That’s absolutely critical to it.”