The USS Emory S. Land, a submarine tender homeporting in La Maddalena, Sardinia, anchored about three miles from the shores of Libreville, the capital of Gabon.

The USS Emory S. Land, a submarine tender homeporting in La Maddalena, Sardinia, anchored about three miles from the shores of Libreville, the capital of Gabon. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

LIBREVILLE, Gabon — The USS Emory S. Land’s current deployment to Cameroon, Gabon and Ghana will serve as “a first step” in helping the West African navies foster maritime security on their own, a Navy leader said.

“It’s a military-to-military effort with a main focus on theater security mission. … We’re providing lessons in shore-line security” that the African navies can use to curb illegal trafficking or provide protection of fisheries, said Rear Adm. C. Van Mauney, director of Navy Europe Plans and Operations and Commander Submarines Allied Naval Forces South.

The nations in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea face problems with smuggling and piracy, as well as illegal dealings in drugs and weapons.

In late January, the Emory S. Land, based in Sardinia, Italy, began the two-month deployment with its main mission of teaching the African navies how to counter those problems, officials said.

Then, this summer, the U.S. Coast Guard will follow on the Land’s mission, Petty Officer Donnie Brzuska said.

The 270-foot cutter USCGC Bear, based in Portsmouth, Va., and a crew of about 100, will “do humanitarian missions, search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, damage control and maintenance and repair of engineering systems,” with the same African navies, Brzuska said.

“We’re working with the Navy in developing a regional engagement plan, following the mission the Emory S. Land started there,” Brzuska said. The idea for the 2005 Gulf of Guinea deployment grew from an October regional maritime security conference, in which naval leaders from 17 nations met to discuss ways forces could counter those nations’ maritime problems and protect oil rigs against possible terrorist attacks.

Military visitors from countries such as Ghana, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe and Nigeria are aboard the 646-foot Emory S. Land. By the end of the deployment, they will have received about 1,500 hours of lessons ranging from navigation and seamanship to search and rescue, anti-terrorism force protection and dealing with the news media, said ship spokesman Lt. j.g. Greg Flores. Aboard, too, are observers from Britain, Portugal, Spain and France.

In addition to the problems the navies face in controlling illegal activities off their shores is that they don’t have much of a navy to speak of. Many of Gabon’s vessels, for example, sit in dry dock in Port Gentil, corroded and not seaworthy, U.S. sailors said.

“Years and years of the lack of preventative maintenance has destroyed at lot of their ships,” said Chief Petty Officer Robert Hewitt, an engineman.

Instead of just doing the repair work for the African navies, Hewitt said, U.S. sailors are training African sailors so “they can be self-sustaining.”

The Emory S. Land also has taken on a diplomatic role and humanitarian missions.

While in Douala, Cameroon, Port Gentil and Libreville, Gabon, and soon in Sekondi, Ghana, sailors will perform community-relations projects such as refurbishing orphanages and schools or playing soccer with local children.

“People of these countries see the U.S. Navy and think all we do is fight wars,” said Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) Gabriel Mensah, a native of Ghana. “We’re here to show the other side of the U.S. Navy.”

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