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The U.S. Navy has the waters surrounding the African continent covered.

Last week, the seafaring service wrapped up a tour by the Navy’s 6th Fleet Southeast Africa Task Force, a three-nation mission with visits to Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion.

“These countries want our help, they know they have issues, from piracy and illegal fishing to trafficking,” said Navy Capt. Nicholas Holman, commander of the Southeast Africa Task Force. “We hear from them ‘we could use your help.’

“The goal is to assist African nations so that they can better police their own territorial waters. We want to equip them with the knowledge and the tools to crack down on crimes like unlawful fishing, piracy, drug trafficking and other illegal behavior that destabilizes the maritime environment, the economy and, ultimately, the security of the region.”

The task force, led this year by the landing ship dock USS Ashland, mirrors in scope to another U.S. Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet-led initiative dubbed Africa Partnership Station. That effort works with 14 West and Central African countries to teach similar maritime security initiatives.

The Southeast Africa Task Force is about two years behind APS in terms of planning, carrying out missions and providing a “persistent presence” in African coastal waters, Holman said.

Ships now spend a few weeks at a time sailing between ports of participating nations, as opposed to the seven-month deployment recently completed by APS ships USS Fort McHenry and High Speed Vessel 2 Swift.

Last year, the kickoff of the Southeast Africa Task Force, the USS Forrest Sherman and USS Normandy visited eight Southeast African nations. For many, it was the first time a U.S. Navy ship had visited in more than 40 years.

“[The mission] is very similar to APS as far as [experiencing some of the] same problems they’re having on the west side … piracy, drug trafficking, smuggling of people, illegal fishing — bad things people do,” Holman said.

Eventually, the task force aims to have a similar presence in the Indian Ocean as APS has in the Gulf of Guinea, Holman said.

“The relationship we have … is one of growth,” said Lt. Brian Badura, a spokesman with Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet, which will take the lead in sea-based missions and engagements of the up-and-coming Africa Command. “That’s where we’re most expert. It’s a natural fit for us.”

Missions and cooperative military oversight on the continent currently fall under various U.S. military commands, including Pacific, Europe and a small portion under Central Command. The creation of AFRICOM will streamline the oversight.

The task force visits also let sailors see countries they otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to during military service, Ashland’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Jeff Ward, said in a prepared statement.

“This deployment has been a wonderful opportunity for my sailors to see a part of the world not many people in the U.S. Navy have visited before. It’s also gratifying for the crew to play such an active role in forging partnerships with these nations.”

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