By OKOSUN DENNIS
AS part of activities marking its 60th anniversary, the Nigerian Navy and other navies in the Gulf of Guinea has embarked on a two-day Regional Maritime Sea Exercise tagged “OPIA TOHA,” which was flagged off by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin at the Naval Dockyard Jetty, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The exercise which focused on a fictitious rescue operation of a merchant ship, MT JAAHU and her crew from pirates was said to have been hijacked off the cost of the Republic of Benin.
The rescue operation which was successfully carried out under the watch of local and international media organizations, was conducted by regional forces of the eight participating countries of the Gulf of Guinea.
The Officer Conducting the exercise (OCE) and Chief Training and Operations at the Naval Headquarters, Abuja, Rear Admiral Adeniyi Osinowo said the exercise was “designed to consolidate the gains of recent inter-navy cooperation particularly at the operational level; to test the capability of how navies in the conduct of anti-piracy operations and in the containment of other illegalities by criminals in our waters in the Gulf of Guinea.
“We have within the past 24 hours able to conduct the exercise, achieved stated objectives. The navies of Cameroon, Ghana and France had ships presents during the exercise as well as observers from various other countries. I am satisfied with the exercise and the conduct of various ships that participated and the aircraft deployed for the exercise and all the objectives were accomplished.
“We have to consolidate the gains of this exercise because one of our contemporary challenges is piracy, sea robbery and illegal bunker in the Gulf of Guinea. We would continue to exercise together to deal with emerging challenges to deliver on the gain of this exercise,” he said
The exercise which was under the command of the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ette Ibas, said he was satisfied with the level of success achieved during the exercise. Chiefs of Naval Staff of Namibia and Cameroon and representatives of the First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom and AFRICOM participated fully.
Speaking to National Daily, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, and also the Officer Tactical in Command, Rear Admiral Ferguson Bobai said the task was to go and rescue the ship that was hijacked MT JAAHU.
He explained that the maritime patrol (ATR) from the Airforce, flew in the night and they were able to locate exactly where the hijacked vessel was hence he detached a team comprising of Nigerian and Cameroonian ships to storm MT JAAHU, attacked the pirates and set her free.
It was learnt that the rescue operation was carried in about 16 nautical miles off the coast of Lagos and the operation was very successful.
Adopting different formations and tactical manoeuvring, four countries including Nigeria engaged her ships in the exercise which includes the Nigerian Naval Ship: NNS CENTENARY, NNS OKPABANA, NNS PROSPERITY, NNS THUNDER and NNS KYANWA. Other ships are Cameroon’s CNS LA SANAGA, Ghana’s GNS CHEMLE and France’s LA LAVALLEE. Other participating countries as observer were the United Kingdom (UK), Cote D’Ivorie, Sierra Leone and Namibia.
With different fleet exercises and manoeuvring, “OPIA TOHA” by translation means “Cooperation at sea” in Idoma language conducted Communication Exercise (Commex); Fleet manoeuvres; Gunnery exercise (Gunex) Visit Board Search and seizure (VBSS), Maritime Interdiction Operation (MIO); Man over Board and Boarding exercise.