Remarks by Consul General Jeffrey Hawkins Arrival of Okpabana (January 2, 2015)

Minister of Defence, Minister Gusau,
Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Badeh,

Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Jibrin, 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocols observed,

Good morning,

On behalf of the United States, we are very excited to see the arrival of the NNS Okpabana.  The Okpabana represents a significant addition to the Nigerian fleet and to the capability of the Nigerian Navy to secure Nigeria’s waters in the Gulf of Guinea.

The United States is pleased to see the expanding capabilities of the Nigerian Navy with the arrival of this second high endurance cutter.  Many of the region’s security challenges come from the sea, and this powerful new naval platform will significantly enhance Nigeria’s ability to control the maritime environment.  The Okpabana—like the Thunder before her—strongly demonstrates in steel grey America’s commitment to enhancing Nigeria’s security.

From the transfer of major naval assets like this one, to training for Nigeria’s elite naval special operations units, to multi-national training exercises, the United States is fully engaged with our Nigerian Navy counterparts.  We work closely with this country’s Navy and with all of Nigeria’s service arms, to counter threats to Nigerian and African security.  We have a common interest in a peaceful, well policed Gulf of Guinea, and support from the United States significantly increases Nigeria’s ability to reach this shared goal.

Today’s arrival of the Okpabana completes a process that started in 2012.  Her crew of 170 officers and sailors brought her to life in May last year in Charleston, South Carolina.   She sailed from the United States last month after completing overhaul where she gained a new capability.  Okpabana is the first Nigerian vessel to have a Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (R-Mack) system onboard.  This system will link back to the Nigerian Navy’s wider Rmack network and expand the Nigerian Navy’s ability to track and identify vessels throughout the Gulf of Guinea.

Her cannons, helicopter flight deck, and Special Boat Service personnel stand ready to protect Nigeria and her interests at sea.  She is a fully operational warship ready for patrols in the Gulf of Guinea today.

Okpabana follows Thunder into the Nigerian fleet.  The transfer ofOkpabana illustrates the robust maritime cooperation that exists between the United States and Nigeria.  In addition to this ship, Nigeria and the United States work closely together to coordinate and maintain maritime domain awareness through the U.S.-funded and -sourced Regional Maritime Awareness Capability network operated by the Nigerian Navy.

Nigerian and U.S. instructors work together regionally to provide instruction for Nigerian sailors and the navies of our partners throughout the Gulf of Guinea.

U.S. Navy SEALs have a long history of working with the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (SBS).

The Nigerian Navy sends dozens of officers and sailors to the United States every year for military education and training.  Further, training exchanges occur almost monthly here in Nigeria to work with a wider array of Nigerian sailors and officers.

And Nigeria’s yearly participation in Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS, the largest naval exercise anywhere on the continent, has made the event a cornerstone for U.S. Africa Command’s engagement in the region since the exercise started in 2010.

The United States looks forward to seeing the Okpabana take her place in helping secure Nigeria’s maritime domain and the wider Gulf of Guinea.  Make no mistake about America’s commitment to helping Nigeria find solutions to Nigerian challenges.  Let us mark this occasion as a mile post along the path rather than the start of our journey, Onward, Together.