The west African troops silently pulled their small boats up to a rust-stained ferry and swarmed up its sides on grappling hooks to disarm the mock kidnappers onboard.
The drill in Ghana’s Volta River on Saturday was carried out during the first ever maritime exercises organized by the US military under its long-running Flintlock program to bolster the skills of west African forces.
The sea-based training this month culminated with soldiers holding their guns aloft as they braved neck-high waves before storming a beach resort to defuse a staged hostage crisis. Military bigwigs and diplomats watched from nearby.
Admiral Milton Sands, commander of the US Special Operations Command for Africa, said that the program had expanded to help coastal nations in the region cope with maritime threats such as piracy and illegal fishing.
Unauthorized fishing “is a significant one that we’re really trying to work with our partners to get our arms around slowing down,” Sands told reporters on Tuesday.
Illegal fishing not only robs the region of a key food source, but fuels other criminal activity, including drugs and human trafficking, he said.
About 350 troops took part in the drills, including servicemen from Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria on the Gulf of Guinea.
The area has become a global piracy hotspot in the past few years, although cases have fallen there since 2021, UN Security Council data showed.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has spread along west Africa’s coasts, sapping an estimated US$9.4 billion per year through illicit financial flows, a report last year by the Financial Transparency Coalition of non-governmental organizations said.
Of the top 10 companies they found involved in IUU fishing in the region, eight were Chinese and one-third of all of the vessels sported Chinese flags, the report said.
Commodore Godwin Livinus Bessing, commander of Ghana’s Naval Training Command, said that tackling IUU fishing had become a top priority, citing a lack of resources to deal with the foreign boats stealing from Ghana’s waters.
“They continue to flout our regulations because of our enforcement capabilities,” Bessing said. “That is one of the biggest problems. If we had enough ships out there and they knew we were monitoring the place, we would be able to curb the situation.”
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