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The USS Fort McHenry returned to Gabon on Thursday, its second visit since the African Partnership Station program started its maiden deployment in November.

Not even at the halfway point of the deployment, the Navy program already has made seven port visits in West Africa.

“We are visiting Port Gentile mainly because that’s where the biggest concentration of Gabonese marines and navy are,” Lt. Cmdr. Marcel Mihindou, of the Gabonese navy, said in a statement. “We are heading there to train as many people as we can. Right now, we expect over 100 Gabonese military people will be trained on board.”

Sailors also visited Libreville a few days earlier.

Showing a softer side of Navy, the underlying mission of the APS is to teach West African navies to secure their own coastlines and waterways in an effort to counter drug smuggling and illegal human trafficking and to cut down on illegal fishing — a $1 billion industry in the region.

So far, the international staff on the APS, a U.S. Naval Forces Europe-led initiative, also has visited Senegal, Ghana and Cameroon.

Navy officials have worked to downplay fears that APS, and the greater U.S. Africa Command, translates to the military’s intention to ratchet up military presence on the continent, a strategically important and oil-rich region. In November, when APS kicked off, Navy Capt. John Nowell, head of the mission, said it’s not about the oil.

“[African leaders] understand what we’re trying to do is build better coordination and help them in solving their own problems, and not increasing our footprint in Africa,” Nowell had said of the sentiments voiced by African leaders with whom he met while the ship visited Dakar, Senegal.

The APS program sailed with the Fort McHenry and the High Speed Vessel Swift. The USS San Jacinto also briefly worked as part of APS while in the region for two months.

The San Jacinto crew worked with the Senegalese navy, teaching engineering repairs to patrol craft, preventive maintenance, and search-and-seizure exercises. It left last week en route to the Black Sea, where it will participate in similar missions with navies in that region.

Two weeks ago, the bodies of two U.S. sailors — attached to APS — were found New Year’s morning in a Ghana hotel.

Navy officials Monday declined to release the results of their autopsies, conducted at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Funeral services were held Friday for Seaman Lonnie Lee Davis Jr., 35, of Riverdale, Ga., and Monday for Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Brendan Mack, 22, of Warren, Mich., said Lt. Patrick Foughty, a spokesman Naval Forces Europe-6th Fleet.


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