The U.S. Navy in Europe is pouring time, money and personnel into its continued effort to help western African nations learn to protect their coastal waters and natural resources.

In two years, the Navy has boosted its “days on station,” or presence in the area, from 12 days in 2004, to more than 180 days so far in 2006.

“We have to show a consistent and persistent presence and commitment in the area,” Rear Adm. Phil Greene Jr., director of Strategy and Policy, Resources and Transformation for U.S. Naval Force Europe, said in an interview last week.

The Gulf of Guinea is an “area of great resources,” Greene said, rich in natural resources such as diamonds, mahogany, fish and petroleum, but plagued by poverty, unstable governments and terrorists trying to gain a foothold.

Left unchecked, the regional nations suffer financially and politically. For example, the coastal countries lose roughly $1 billion a year to illegal fishing alone, said Greene, who recently returned from a tour of seven African nations.

The U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet and U.S. European Command have ratcheted up their military presence in several Gulf of Guinea nations, by sending Seabees to reconstruct facilities, special forces to train African militaries, medical teams to help the ill and a submarine tender of sailors ready to teach the Africans how to repair their own ships.

In October, 6th Fleet plans to station one reservist each in Ghana, Gabon and on Sao Tome and Principe for six-month stints to serve as direct liaisons between the U.S. military and those respective country, said Cmdr. Mike Fulkerson, the West/Central Africa Regional Planning Team leader.

Of late, the military has been sending the African countries Mobile Training Teams, small groups of sailors with particular skill sets tailored for the varying needs of a particular country, he said.

Training runs the gamut from boat maintenance to seamanship schooling, vessel damage control and firefighting.

The Navy also is changing the way it taps into its own sailors’ skills, and sending talent where needed.

For example, a sailor who speaks Senegalese can be deployed for a few weeks to Senegal instead of just working in administration at his home base in Naples, Italy, he said.

The service is in the midst of surveying its active and reserve forces to find out what skills, talents and even hobbies sailors have that might help in varying missions, Fulkerson said.

The fleet’s efforts in Africa include a ship from the Military Sealift Command. The tug USNS Apache, which has been in the region for a month, started training divers from Ghana on Sunday.

The Apache has been in Liberia surveying shipwrecks in three of the country’s ports, and making improvements to a commercial pier in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, according to a Sealift Logistics Command Europe press release.

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