Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
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May 5, 2016
USNS Spearhead Returns From APS 2016
By MSC Public Affairs Office
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The Navy’s First Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1), returned to her homeport, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, after completing Africa Partnership Station (APS) 2016.
APS is designed to achieve common maritime security goals through partnerships and collaboration. APS specifically aims to bolster regional maritime safety and security throughout Africa’s maritime environment.
This is the third deployment of Spearhead in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operation. The ship was commanded by master, Capt. Douglas Casavant, and the military detachment officer-in-charge was Cmdr. Tim Ferracci, APS mission commander.
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 Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) embarked Spearhead in support of Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) 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.
USNS Spearhead was essential in counterpiracy operations with motor tanker Maximus. While conducting AMLEP, Spearhead received 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 the 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.
While in theater, 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.
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.
The once separate exercises took place in different areas of Africa for the past six years but were combined this year to synchronize efforts to implement the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and Multi-lateral Maritime Zone Agreements across the Economic Community of West African States and Economic Community of Central African States nations.
- "It was a privilege having the opportunity to work along side our African Partner Nations in the Gulf of Guinea with this dynamic and unique military detachment and USNS Spearhead. The Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps personnel, to include Spanish and Royal Marines, embarked on Spearhead conducted training across the spectrum of Maritime Security Force Assistance with Ghana, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe. Additionally, the combined Law Enforcement operations we conducted during African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership increased Maritime Domain Awareness and resulted in best practices being shared in Maritime Security Operations. 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. In an area riddled with piracy, illegal fishing practices, and illicit trafficking, our presence in the region was visibly noticeable to those participating in such acts and those combating these harmful forces. 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, Chief Mate, USNS Spearhead
- "Working with the different Western African nations highlighted the impact our forces have had during previous missions. It was great to see the progress nations we have worked with in the past have made, while being able to use the lessons learned from previous engagements to initiate our engagements with newer partners. 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
- Spearhead began this scheduled deployment from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, Dec. 29, 2015.
- AMLEP is a multi-phased 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 lead 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 amongst 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 United Kingdom Royal Marines and Spanish Marines with Gabonese maritime forces on board the Spearhead consisting of weapons handling, Close Quarter Battle (CQB), and patrolling tactics.
- 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.