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  • Digital Press Briefing with U.S. Navy Captain Michael E. Concannon Commanding Officer of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams and U.S. Navy Captain John M. Tully Director of African Engagements, U.S. Naval Forces Africa.

Listen or download the audio file here .

Moderator:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion.  Today, we are very pleased to be joined by U.S. Navy Captain Michael E. Concannon, Commanding Officer of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, and U.S. Navy Captain John M. Tully, Director of African Engagements, U.S. Naval Forces Africa.  They are speaking to us from Washington, D.C., and from a Navy ship.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Captain Concannon and Captain Tully, then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have allotted.

If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the #AFHubPress and follow us on Twitter @AfricaMediaHub.

As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record.  And with that, I will turn it over to Captain Michael Concannon for his opening remarks.

Captain Concannon:  Yes, good afternoon.  I appreciate it.  Thank you for the opportunity to be able to speak here today.  We had a fantastic deployment.  I look forward to answering questions that are pertaining to my deployment, maritime security operations, and the exercises that we participated in.  I would have to say that it was extremely successful working with our partners as we focused on maritime security in coastal Africa and the challenges that it brings based on the size and the complexity of the nature of the area.  We had a lot of fun working with our partners, our allies, and agencies that we are continuing to support as the sole ship that’s in the AFRICOM AOR (Area of Responsibility) to support our partners as they work through solutions with their problem.  Thank you.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Over to you, Captain Tully. 

Captain Tully:  Good afternoon and thanks for taking the time to participate in today’s call.  I’m Captain John Tully.  I’m a U.S. Navy Foreign Area Officer, and as the moderator stated, the Director of African Engagements here at U.S. Naval Forces Africa in Naples, Italy.  I’m joined today, as you just heard, by Captain Concannon, the CO (Commanding Officer) of USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, and we’re really glad to be here together.  

At U.S. Naval Forces Africa, we’re committed to being a reliable and long-term partner in Atlantic Africa.  We believe that the safety and security in the waters surrounding Africa are critical to maintaining a stable and safe global environment.  But due to the massive size of the continent, we also recognize that no one country can provide that safety and security alone.  Since the ocean is directly tied to economic prosperity, we see one of our key missions being to help our partners provide this environment.  And we believe that the best way to do this is by supporting African-led institutions and initiatives to help them develop the capacity and capability to manage this challenge.

Today, I would like to discuss some of the recent activities that U.S. Naval Forces Africa have taken in this regard.

USS Hershel “Woody” Williams just completed her highly successful deployment to Atlantic Africa.  She’s an Expeditionary Sea Base, a class of ships whose multi-mission capability gives us great flexibility to engage with our partners and conduct operations at and from the sea.  Under Captain Concannon’s leadership, she embarked maritime forces from Senegal, Cabo Verde, and Sierra Leone for a maritime security patrol.

The multinational, military, and civilian team also worked with members of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, and Interpol.  And together they successfully worked with national maritime operation centers to stop two maritime crimes.  The first was an instance of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in Sierra Leone’s exclusive economic zone that could result in over $2 million of fines.  The second was a counter-drug operation near Cabo Verde that resulted in multiple arrests and the confiscation of approximately 6,000 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of over $350 million. 

Hershel “Woody” Williams, along with 32 African and European allies and partners, Brazil, and Canada, also just participated in our annual Obangame Express exercise in March, which stretched the length of Africa’s Atlantic seaboard.  We’re proud of the work Hershel “Woody” Williams has done this deployment, and the partnership she and her crew have helped develop with African navies.  

With that said, we’re happy to take your questions. 

Moderator:  Thank you, Captain Concannon and Captain Tully.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: Maritime security along the Gulf of Guinea, and those activities of the Hershel “Woody” Williams.  

Our first question will be to Captain Concannon, and it’s:  “How does the Hershel “Woody” Williams contribute to stability in the Gulf of Guinea?”  We already heard a little bit about that in the opening remarks, but tell us a little bit more about just how the ship does that.

Captain Concannon:  Thank you.  Our ability to effect stability is through our partnership actions with nations that we participate with, whether it be in Obangame Express and providing ourselves as an opportunity to practice tactical visit, board, and search and seizure techniques which are key to being successful in performing interdiction operations, to operating with countries such as Sierra Leone, Cabo Verde, and Senegal as we conduct maritime security operations.  All of these events are focused on partner-led supported evolutions where we are able to help countries build capability and capacity, understanding their concerns are to protect their maritime domain.  These patrols, these exercises allow us to help them build capability and act as a good partner to help them on interdiction operations to combat illegal maritime activity.  Thank you.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to a question just written in to our chat from Diana Ngon of Citi FM/TV in Ghana.  Her question is:  “Piracy at the Gulf of Guinea is on the rise with poverty, weak economies as one of the fundamental causes.  How is the U.S. helping in strengthening economies like Ghana in addressing this menace?”  Did you want to take that, Captain Tully?

Captain Tully:  Sure, I’ll be happy to.  We have a very – a longstanding relationship with the Ghana navy.  We have worked with them in a variety of venues on a variety of activities over the past decade – more than the past decade in fact.  We talked a little bit about exercise Obangame Express.  That’s one of our real keystone maritime security events that we do each year, generally stretching from somewhere in the neighborhood of Mauritania, Senegal, down through Angola.  Ghana has been a big partner in that.

One of the things that we really try to do in this exercise is get at some of the real key problems that are driving maritime insecurity in Atlantic Africa, things like piracy, things like maritime crime, illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing, smuggling of all sorts be that narcotics, people, weapons.  We are able to work with them over the course of about a year of planning these exercises, working with the planners from the coastal African states to determine which type of events need to be included in the exercise to help develop capabilities and practice them that are going to make the most impact for the navies.  

And that goes – that runs the gamut pretty much from basic things like maritime domain awareness, which is the term we use for an ability to understand what’s going on out at sea, all the way up to finding illegal activity, getting a boarding team onboard a vessel to investigate, to confirm that something suspicious, something potentially illegal has happened, control the area as a crime scene, control the evidence, establish a chain of custody for that evidence, and get it ashore, then moving that into a prosecutorial process.  And in fact we’ve even worked on that with our exercises in recent years, practicing that trial process to make sure what we’re working on at sea is going to stand up in a court of law and enable these countries to actually take some action.  

It goes beyond the exercises, though.  We’ve got a pretty robust partnership with the State Department as well as other of our tri-service maritime partners – the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps – to provide training and education.

The State Department’s International Military Education and Training program is fantastic, enables our allies and partners to send their military personnel to our schools back in the United States to learn alongside our own sailors as they develop skills to help protect their economies.  And we do some training and equipping on site as well.  Some of that’s associated with our exercises and some of it is kind of standalone where we’ve provided maritime domain awareness equipment – radars, automatic identification systems, sensors, interconnecting software – to really enable them to try to better coordinate and better work together on their maritime security. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next, we’ll go live to Simon Ateba of Today News Africa.  Mr. Ateba, you may ask your question.

Question:  Thank you, Marissa Scott, for doing this and thank you for taking my question.  This is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington, D.C.  My question goes to both Captain Michael Concannon and Captain John Tully.  On the maritime security threat, how big is China a threat to U.S. national security in Africa when it comes to fishing and the rest?  And can you please tell us a little bit more about that last deployment?  How do you partner with African countries?  How do you select them?  How many African countries participate in search exercises?  Thank you.

Captain Concannon:  Well, thank you.  This is Captain Concannon.  And if I can, I’m going to field the second question first, and I’ll defer to Captain Tully and Sixth Fleet leadership to answer the first question.  But again, thank you for your question.  

How do we partner with African countries?  You heard Captain Tully talk about the exercises such as Phoenix Express, African Lion, Obangame Express, Cutlass Express, those exercises that we do around Coastal Africa to work with our partner nations as we help them come through solutions to African problems that are partner-supported.  And we’re happy to be one of those partners to help African nations come through these solutions.

These exercises are very robust.  They really challenge us and our partners to find solutions to solve some of these issues that are present as African coastal nations build their capability, build their capacity, learn how to operate with other nations, ourselves and our allies and our interservice partners.  These exercises serve as a platform to do that learning, to do that cooperation, to do that engagement and with improved communication that improves our operation.  

We went beyond that this deployment, and I think that we were very successful, as noted in Captain Tully’s opening remarks, in our interdiction operations where we did maritime security operations focused on partner-led – I’m sorry, the – our partners, our coastal African partners leading with us supporting.  These were partner-led operations, whether it be in Sierra Leone or patrolling in the Senegal EEZ waters or off of the Cabo Verde EEZ.  Those interdiction operations, those maritime security operations were partner-led.  And we gave them a lot of support that they needed in order to conduct the operation, but it was their operation.  It was their law enforcement process that went through the determination of the scope of the problem and what to do with it – judicially, legally.  And we were happy to be a part of that support.  

For the first question, I’ll defer to Captain Tully.  Captain Tully? 

Captain Tully:  Thanks, Captain Concannon.  I appreciate that.  I think when we talk about a problem like IUU fishing, it is a massive problem globally and it’s a massive problem in the Atlantic Africa region.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, within the – just the region of Mauritania to Sierra Leone, you’re talking about a loss of in the neighborhood of $2.3 billion to IUU fishing and the loss of over 300,000 jobs.  So it really is a crisis out there, and we’re dealing with fish stocks that are either approaching or already at the point of not being recoverable.

And I alluded to this before, and I think Captain Concannon stated it pretty well when he talked about partner-led operations.  Our priority when we’re working with African countries is to assist our partners and helping them develop African-led solutions to the security challenges that they face.  And we are very conscious in that we do not put our partners in the position that requires them to choose between working with the United States and other external actors in determining the best way to protect their economic and sovereign interests in this – in solving this problem.  It is a massive problem.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We’re going to – we’re going to stick a little bit on that vein of questions.  We have a question that’s come in from Kate Bartlett out of VOA, Voice of America.  Her question is:  “Do you have any updates on Chinese plans for a military base in West Africa?  The Chinese have denied this on the cards, but say if they do decide to add bases in Africa, it will be purely for safety of their nationals, et cetera, and should not be seen as a threat to other nations like the U.S.  What is your response to this?”

Captain Tully:  Thanks very much for that question.  I think we’ve talked a little bit about the – our position when it comes to dealing with China or other outside partners in the Atlantic Africa region.  I think when you want to – for an answer to a question about China’s intentions, we’re really not the right – the right people to ask that question of.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next question is a question that was sent into us from – let’s see, a question from Katherina Hoije of Bloomberg News out of Cote d’Ivoire?  The question is:  “Has there been any progress on a coordinated international law enforcement operation in the Gulf of Guinea?  And how could such an agreement improve operations?”  So this could possibly go back to the efforts in Cabo Verde or in some other coastal regions where seizures have taken place.

Captain Concannon:  Well, Captain Tully, I’ll ask you to add in at the – at the back side of this.  You have a little greater strategic look at some of the actions that have been happening at the State Department and the upper fleet level.  I can speak for my – what I saw and what we did, which I think was pretty important work where we worked together with our partner nations.  We had liaison officers from these three different countries: Cabo Verde, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.  

We had help from outside agencies and activities: our tri-service components; our partners, as we discussed; bilateral agreements which had been previously signed, which were placed in effect, coordinated between high-level government leadership in the countries where we had their LNOs and their partners; as well as law enforcement action using our Coast Guard and ourselves reaching back to the United States to get permission to enact some of these bilateral agreements and the stipulations inside of them to be able to get after some criminal activity that we had witnessed on the open seas and provided us a vehicle to be able to successfully do that interdiction – again, an African-led, partner-supported operation which in those two cases – those instances of interdictions that we had during this deployment, again, I would showcase them as being successful with I guess a caveat on the term.  What does “success” mean?  

And I would say that success means we were able to communicate using maritime operation centers, through leadership and respective governments, law enforcement agencies, in order to focus our efforts on a problem and find a solution to that problem and then allow the governments of our African partners to take judicial action to be able to resolve the illegality that had happened in their maritime area.

I would say that it was very successful in working through some of those things that are simply communication, the ability to reach out to leaders and put in force agreements which the State Department and others had worked years ago to establish.  So getting back to the question, how do we get after that in the Gulf of Guinea, I would say that this was a great example of how we can be successful again with an African-led, partner-supported operation to get after illicit activity happening in their region.  Thank you.

Captain Tully:  Thanks, Captain Concannon.  I will add just a little bit on there.  I think one of the things we’ve talked about a couple of times already in this session is partnerships.  And he hit on it pretty well, I think, the fact that it really does take a team to try to get after these challenges.  He mentions collaboration with the national maritime operation centers.  That’s really key.  But one thing we can’t ignore is the fact that there has been development on this point, this question of is there coordinated law enforcement, and there is, right, in a number of manners.  I’ll highlight one of them.  

One is a subregional fisheries commission patrols that exist that are coordinated in the region between Mauritania and Sierra Leone, where the fisheries ministries and fisheries enforcements come together to conduct coordinated law enforcement patrols within their combined areas to try to control illegal fishing that’s going on, and to do it in such a way that they’re just not pushing it across one border into the next area, and then there’s no – there’s no recompense.  There’s no – nothing comes of it.  And one of the things that we have seen and heard from the leaders in these countries is that when they’re out there doing these patrols, there is a noticeable increase in the amount of fish that’s available in the local fish markets.  So there are some coordination – coordinated activities happening just in the fisheries area that are having an effect.  

I would call out two other things as well.  One is the shared awareness and deconfliction efforts that are going on right now under the leadership of Nigeria and the interregional coordination center based in Yaounde that are working together to try to help solve the piracy problem.  This is a great example of regional leadership taking charge of an issue and trying to move forward with really getting after what is a very difficult problem to solve.  

And I mentioned the interregional coordination center in Yaounde.  That’s part of probably one of the cornerstone documents of an international law enforcement operation, if you could say, which is the Yaounde Code of Conduct, an agreement that was signed by the heads of state of all of the ECOWAS and all of the CEEAC – the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States – back in 2013 where they agreed to take a number of steps to try to help cooperate with each other and coordinate their activities to improve maritime security.  So there are some activities going on.  Obviously, as we can see at sea, there’s still more work to be done, but there is progress.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next, we’ll go live to Pearl Matibe of Power FM 98.7, out of South Africa.  Pearl, you may ask your question.  

Question:  Thank you very much for being available today.  I wonder if you could please tie the needle up for me a little bit and explain of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, what is it about this ship?  Like, maybe speak a little bit about its features or its makeup that make this specific warship the right warship to use in these activities.  And then please then tie up your roles, the positions that you hold within U.S. Navy Fleet and explain why – what is it about your roles that makes you the right people to be engaging with these training exercises in Africa?

And then maybe end with explaining what are those capabilities then that African navies then gained.  I know, for example, one – one element might be explaining, like, was – if collaborating was a goal or an aim, can you give some specific examples?  Because not everybody has a navy knowledge background.  So if you can make – speak – give some specific examples that an ordinary person on the streets of Johannesburg or Cape Town can understand.  Thank you. 

Moderator:  Okay.  Let’s unpack that a little bit.  That was a lot of questions Pearl so —   

Captain Tully:  So Captain —  

Moderator:  I think we got it.  

Captain Tully:  Captain Concannon – 

Moderator:  Captain Concannon.  

Captain Tully:  — what do you think if you take the parts specific to the Hershel “Woody” Williams, and I’ll take some of the broader ones when you’re done – done with those parts?  Does that sound good? 

Moderator:  Captain, you’re muted.  You’re muted.  

Captain Concannon:  Okay.  Thank you.  I’m sorry about that.  Thank you for your question.  And I think I’ve got everything written down here because I just had a feeling you were going to ask me a lot of questions here, so I’m ready for you.  So thank you.  

First, what are the capabilities that the ship has and what is the role in the U.S. fleet with why are we the right asset for AFRICOM?  I think if you look at all of the different capabilities, this is a very flexible platform that brings an ability to conduct aviation operations with rotary aircraft to – we have small boats and storage capability on our mission deck to be able to bring a lot of material, whether it be food, stores, different types of logistics to areas in need.  We have that capability.  We have the expansion capability to take a lot more people on board.  We are designed to go a little slower but for much, much longer, which is well suited for this area of responsibility.  Africa is very big, so the ability to go from South Africa, to go Rota, Spain without having to stop for fuel is very important.  And we have that expanded capability to be able to go where there may be a need for us to go and then provide that capability that would allow us to be more helpful to our African partners who express that need.

In the fleet, there are several of these platforms in different fleets and areas of operation performing very similar roles.  And we’re learning as we apply this platform to different demands, to different request, and we’re listening to our partners what they need and how we can help them.  

An example:  As we’ve talked about the exercises that we participate in, whether it be one of the Express series exercises or African Lion off the coast of Morocco, we are a great platform for partner nations to be able to practice their skills at conducting visit, board, search and seizure operations which lend themselves well to getting team [inaudible] talk to the crew, speak to the captain, take a look at documentation, and validate some information about the ship.  That’s a skill we provide.  We allow a platform of opportunity that lets these nations test their skills, and then we have trainers onboard on the mission deck when they come up to do those skills, to evaluate them and provided them on-the-spot feedback to improve them as a team and as a country with a capability.  That’s how I think that we are a best fit to do this.

You asked me to do end on what I thought had been gained or where – where we provide value I think is maybe a better way to put it, and with collaboration a goal.  So first, do I think that we – that there was something gained or what did we hope would be gained?  Yes, communication is number one – the ability for our partner nations to be able to reach back to their host nation government through maritime operation centers to get permission to enact some of the stipulations of our bilateral agreements.  We had not done that before.  That – and that – and I’m speaking from Hershel “Woody” Williams.  I can’t speak to other ships that have been either with partnership nation activities or others, but we had not done that, and that was successful.  Reaching back to our law enforcement capability, which allows us to perform law enforcement action; we had not done that before either.  

So simultaneously as we’re working with a host nation government and we’re working with our government to be able to allow us to do law enforcement actions in support of our African partners, both of those things were tested and shown to be successful both with communication and the permissions that were required – again, very successful.  

From the tactical standpoint, putting host nation or putting our African partner nations in one of our small boats with our security, which was a tri-service operation already with Interpol providing us some oversight from the international law enforcement piece, I had five or six different agencies and services and African partners in a boat going to do an interdiction.  I have never seen that done before.  To me, that makes this, in my mind, a resounding success because we were able to do that and positively curtail illicit activity, which is our goal in maritime security operations, while the rest of the partner nations – in this case Sierra Leone and Senegal – those officers are on board a part of this process learning as we do this in Cabo Verde waters.  So I expanded the learning capability and the government involvement and had three nations, not just one African partner nation, that had an opportunity to see and learn from this so that we can then continue to have more successful operations later.

Finally, collaboration, and an example – and I think that – I hope that answers your question when we talk about a collaborative effort.  That was truly a collaborative effort that was not led by us.  We were there to provide support that the African nations needed and asked for and a platform to be able to do it, which we think is a pretty good platform to do that, but this was – this was African-led, and I’m very proud of my partners and what they were able to achieve.  Thank you.

Captain Tully:  Captain Concannon, great.  That was – that was great.  And I think you covered a lot of the ground that I was going to, but I do want to add a couple of bits onto there, especially on that last point about a partner-led operation.  I’d say one of the – one of the real advantages that we have with Hershel “Woody” Williams being down there in Africa is that we can help overcome one of the shortfalls that many African coastal states have, which is difficulty getting out to the extent of their exclusive economic zones to help enforce their laws.  Excuse me.  

And that is one of the things in our conversations with African maritime leaders that we often hear, is that they know that there’s illegal activity going on, but they don’t have the surface vessels or aircraft with the ability to get out to sea at an extended distance from their coast and stay out there to be able to enforce their law.  By having the African partners on board Hershel “Woody” Williams, as we did this time, we can help them overcome that challenge.  I think that’s a real important part of what that ship and Captain Concannon and his crew bring to us down there in Africa.

To answer a couple of the other parts of your question – why us?  From a purely United States perspective here at U.S. Naval Forces Africa, we are the U.S. Navy’s fleet and command that is dedicated to Africa.  We work incredibly closely with U.S. Africa Command.  They are our joint combatant commander, so we make sure that we’re tied in very closely with them in everything that we do.

We also have probably the most concentrated amount of Navy officers here that actually have experience in working with African partners on the ground in Africa.  I can’t imagine another command in the U.S. Navy that has the same amount of on-the-ground experience with our African partner navies that we have right here.  I think that sets us up very well to do that. 

To get to a couple other points that – questions that you asked, we talk a little bit about engagements, exercises, and operations.  I think when you talk about what we’re doing and what capabilities, again, under the banner of African Partnership Station, which has been our real flagship program for engagements in Africa for well over a decade now, we do a whole wide array of engagements with African partners.  That goes everywhere from staff-level talks, trying to make sure we’re going in the right direction, to making sure our leadership is talking to each other regularly to verify that that’s correct.  We also do some training and engagements under that to try to add capacity, focus our efforts in specific areas where there’s places to go. 

We’ve talked quite a bit about exercises already.  I won’t get too much into them.  You mentioned Obangame Express in the Atlantic, and Captain Concannon ran down some of the other ones – Phoenix Express in the Mediterranean, Cutlass Express in the Indian Ocean.  And then we’re even supporting African Lion, which is a ground-focused exercise in the Maghreb later this year.

But I do want to talk about operations.  We’ve talked a little bit about the bilateral law enforcement agreements that we have with a number of African countries.  Those are great enablers, like Captain Concannon said.  And the existence of those allows us to leverage our U.S. Coast Guard to actually make a direct and concrete impact on the law enforcement – pardon me – to have a direct impact on the rule of law in the countries with which we have them.  And I think that’s very important.

And what are we focused on besides these?  We’ve provided a lot of help in maritime domain awareness. We mentioned the radars.  We mentioned automatic identification systems.  We’ve talked – we also provide assistance with their maritime operations centers, to help them with processes, to help them with systems, to make sure they’re – to make sure that we’re able to provide examples of how we do business to see if that’s going to work well for them.

We’ve also worked quite a bit on institutional capacity-building to try to help with processes to maintain assistance that’s been given and maintain their own equipment.  We look at one of the big problems that we’ve had in the past and that African – that we’ve seen and that African navies ask us about regularly, is help maintaining boats, help maintaining radars.  So we try to find ways to not just patch the problem by fixing what’s broken, but also to try to look at some of the systems there, make sure that we can provide access to our training classrooms, access to our systems to try to help with the logistics of spare parts, to help with training of those maintainers who have to keep those systems running. 

And finally, again, operations like the ones that Hershel “Woody” Williams just operate – pardon me – operations like the ones that USS Hershel “Woody” Williams just completed down in Africa.  We think those are great examples of deliverables. 

I’ve talked with a number of African heads of navies who have remarked on their experience in working with the U.S. Navy, the time that they have spent embarked on U.S. ships like Hershel “Woody” Williams, like some of our other ships that have been down to Africa and [inaudible].  They not only recall it fondly but they also talk about what they learned and who they met while they were on there, often meeting other officers from their neighboring countries who have gone on to be heads of navy and very senior leaders in the maritime down there.  So I think there’s quite a bit that we have to offer. 

Moderator:   Thank you.  Next we’ll go live to Alou Mamane of Wadata Radio out of Niamey, Niger.  Mr. Mamane, you may ask your question.  Mr. Mamane, unmute and you may ask your question. 

Okay.  Operator, please unmute Mr. Mamane so he can ask his question.  There we go.  Okay.  Please ask your question. 

Question:  Yeah.  Okay.  

Moderator:  Okay?  It looks like you’re having some technical difficulties, so we’ll come back to you with that question. 

Question:  Yes.  

Moderator:  Okay.  Mr. Mamane, go ahead. 

Question:  Yeah.  It’s – yeah.  Okay, thank you.  Thank you so much.  My name is Alou Mamane Sani from Niger Republic.  I have been working as a journalist at Wadata Radio here in Niamey, the capital of Niger, West Africa.  Okay.  My question is relating what is going on about the illegal – about drug – illegal drug trafficking in Sahara, mostly here in Niger Republic.  Because long time ago, the local authorities here in Niger seize more than 20 hundred kilograms of cocaine.  Okay.  Just I want to know which kind of collaboration Niger Republic has with the U.S. Navy relating against the illegal trafficking in Africa.  That is my question.  Thank you so much. 

Moderator:  Thank you, Mr. Mamane.  I would note that Niger is a landlocked country, so they may not work very often with the U.S. Navy.  But please, Captain Concannon, if you’d like to answer that question, please do so.

Captain Concannon:  Well, thank you for the question.  I appreciate that.  I would speak, I believe, more holistically to that problem, and maybe not necessarily pointed directly at Niger and other countries in the vicinity, but take it a little more geographically. 

We are partnering with all African country nations, and here we’re talking specifically about West Africa.  But we do, and we do have that relationship, and we are looking forward to the opportunity, more opportunities in the future with more maritime security operations opportunities with like-minded countries, African countries, who are equally as interested as was Sierra Leone, Cabo Verde, and Senegal, based on the area we were operating in at the time.  I’m confident that we’ll have more opportunities to work with more countries to get after some of the illegal activities that Captain Tully had mentioned.  Thank you.  

Captain Tully? 

Moderator:   Okay.  

Captain Tully:  Yep.  Thanks, Captain Concannon.  What I would say is the narcotics trafficking is a big problem everywhere, including trafficking into the United States.  And specifically to your question, we’ve got a saying here that security at sea enables stability ashore.  So we think that by trying to – or by making efforts to improve security at sea and trying to clamp down on the trafficking that happens at sea, we can reduce the amount of narcotics that actually make it ashore, and therefore that would get up into Niger. 

It is a challenging problem, like I said, but I think, interestingly, what I mentioned earlier, the Yaounde Code of Conduct, landlocked African states recognize the challenges that maritime security – or the impact, pardon me, that maritime security has on them.  And I think the fact that you’re dialed into this call is probably a great example of that.  But the landlocked members of ECOWAS and CEEAC signed the Yaounde Code of Conduct as well; even though they don’t have a coastline and don’t have navies to contribute, they did recognize the great importance that maritime security plays to their own economic prosperity and, really, security as well. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  We have a few minutes left, so a couple more questions.  This one is from Milton Maluleque of Deutsche Welle out of Africa:  “Thanks for the opportunity.  Piracy, illegal fishing, and maritime attacks occurring in the Gulf of Guinea have been a major problem for São Tomé and Principe.  How does the U.S. support – how has it been characterized in the fight against these evils, bearing in mind that the U.S. doesn’t have diplomatic representation in the country, and it has China as one of its great partners, which has been accused of illegal fishing?”

So just to summarize this, São Tomé and Principe does have U.S. representation out of Angola and our embassy there.  But the question here is primarily on small states and how these small countries like São Tomé and Principe can fight against illegal piracy and fishing. 

Captain Tully:  I’ll take this one, if you want, Captain Concannon.  I think the answer to that is that we have worked with São Tomé and Principe.  We were there just a couple of months ago with one of our admirals, meeting with their leadership, talking about some of the challenges that they have, and looking to try to come up with some creative ways that we can work together to alleviate them and help them get after the challenges that they’re facing. 

We do – I mean, obviously we are not a command that has unlimited resources.  We are forced to prioritize.  But even that being said, we have a very open-door policy when it comes to particularly the exercises that we do on the continent.  So if you look at the number of countries that participate in, for example, Obangame Express, that’s 32 African partners were involved in that, which is pretty much every country from Mauritania – pardon me – from Morocco down to Namibia.  It’s a pretty broad exercise.  It covers a lot of ground both physically and substance-wise.

But I think that every country that participates in that gets something out of it that helps them take care of maritime security just a little bit better.  It – whether that’s how to run maritime operations center, maybe something about visit, board, search and seizure, how to get onto a suspect vessel.  So we do cast a pretty wide net for participation in these exercises. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Our next question goes to Michael Phillips from the Wall Street Journal out of Nairobi.  “Is another U.S. Navy ship replacing the Hershel “Woody” Walker [sic] on Africa’s Atlantic coast?  If so, which ship, and what activities will it carry out?  If not, why not, and what should African partners read into that decision?”  Obviously for you, Captain Concannon.

Captain Concannon:  Actually, no, but thank you.  I’m going to defer to Sixth Fleet staff to talk about future employment of ships and assets that have been requested.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Over to you.  Is that for you, Captain Tully?

Captain Tully:  Yep.  That would be for me.  So right now, Hershel “Woody” Williams is our vessel assigned to U.S. Naval Forces Africa, and we employ her around the continent to have effect where we think that’s most required.  And we determine that in cooperation and in discussion and often – almost all the time – with our African partners. 

The question is a good one because it gets to the point of, when you have one ship, it can only be in one place at a time, so we have to make some decisions about where we go.  And while there are problems in Atlantic Africa, there are problems in the Mediterranean that we – and allies in the Mediterranean to assist with as well as in the Indian Ocean. 

But I would say that we also take advantage, to the best we can, of the fact that within the United States Government, we have a tri-service maritime strategy and we try to use each other as best we can to take advantage of the natural advantages that each service has.  So while Hershel “Woody” Williams is back up off the coast, not – pardon me – while Hershel Williams is not down off the coast of Africa right now, we do expect that we are going to get some support from the U.S. Coast Guard later this year to send a Coast Guard cutter into the region.  And just because the ship is gone now, the ship being Hershel “Woody” Williams, doesn’t mean she’s not going to be coming back again sometime soon. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  That is all the time that we have right now for questions.  I would like to thank Captain Michael Concannon, Commanding Officer of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, and Captain John Tully, Director of African Engagements, U.S. Naval Forces Africa, for speaking to us today, and thank all of you for participating. 

Would you both like to have some parting remarks? 

Captain Concannon:  This is Captain Concannon, and thank you.  Again, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak to media today.  Great questions.  Get to the point of what we’re trying to achieve here, the collaborative effort, how we fit in and how do we continue to provide that support from the – our South African partner question.  Fantastic questions.  I hope that we answered them satisfactorily.  I hope we gave you a little bit of insight with what we’re trying to achieve, and what we have achieved, and what we know we will achieve as we continue our efforts and continue to collaborate, to continue with our African partners, supporting them and the changes and the effects they wish to make in their maritime environment to make it more stable, more secure, and eventually make it more prosperous.  Thank you. 

Captain Tully? 

Captain Tully:  Thanks.  I’ll just reiterate a couple of things I said earlier, that, first of all, thanks to everyone for coming today.  It’s been great to talk about not just the great deployment and great patrol that Hershel “Woody” Williams just completed, but also a little bit more broadly what we – how we look at maritime security challenges and helping to resolve them.

Just to highlight a couple of the last things, this is a big problem.  It’s beyond the scope of any one country to solve on its own.  So it really does take a team to solve it.  And I talked about the tri-service maritime aspects of what we do with the Hershel “Woody” Williams deployment; it goes beyond that.  We can’t get very far at all without our Coast Guard and Marine teammates here.

The team goes beyond that too.  Captain Concannon talked a little bit about the incredible amount of teamwork that was required, particularly with the narcotics takedown off the coast of Cabo Verde with the Cabo Verdean interagency, with our own interagency, with the – with a whole raft of counternarcotics organizations out there, MAOC (Maritime Analysis Operations Center) in Lisbon, Portugal, not to mention the flag state of the vessel back to Brazil.

It takes a lot of work and a lot of coordination to do that, and we’re happy to be out there.  We’re happy to be participants in it.  And I’ll go back to what I said at the end there:  We think that security at sea drives stability ashore, and that stability is really what’s needed for economic development.  So thank you very much.

Moderator:  Thank you.  If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at  Thank you.

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U.S. Department of State

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