A Perfect Fit for Africa

By Captain Phillip J. Heyl, U.S. Coast Guard

The use of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter to conduct real-world law enforcement operations with the Cape Verde Coast Guard exemplifies the service's training and preparation. The commanders of Naval Forces Europe and the U.S Sixth Fleet in October 2007 deployed the Africa Partnership Station—a sea-going unit designed to change what in the past had consisted of sporadic port visits that were often unconnected with the efforts of our European partners. The start of the APS initiative corresponded with the stand-up of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) as the Department of Defense's newest unified command and is in alignment with its mission to conduct "sustained security engagement." 1

The Coast Guard is a perfect fit for Africa because most of the continent's navies and coast guards are similar to the U.S. service in terms of missions and vessel size. The Cape Verde deployment, for instance, includes maritime law enforcement (fisheries protection and anti-smuggling—with cargo that includes drugs, humans, and weapons), search and rescue, environmental protection, and aids to navigation: all subjects that mirror the U.S. Coast Guard's missions.

The Mission

During the underway period, the Dallas sailed 3,000 miles with the Cape Verde law enforcement detachment (LEDET) embarked, patrolling the island nation's territorial seas and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The combined detachments boarded six vessels, both day and night, and in the last three, Cape Verde personnel led the team. The boardings, to enforce Cape Verde law, were similar to those conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard on a daily basis within our territorial seas and EEZ. Several resulted in warnings issued by Cape Verde authorities for minor fishing vessel infractions. In one case, a fishing vessel with 150 tuna on board was transiting Cape Verde's EEZ without using the required Automatic Identification System.

West Africa is fast becoming a transit area for cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there has been a steadily increasing trend in cocaine seizures in African waters. 2 They estimate that approximately 40 tons of cocaine was moved through West Africa in 2007. Cape Verde's strategic location 300 miles off the West Coast of Africa puts it squarely in the transit zone. This makes it an attractive staging area for drug traffickers, who could also use the island nation to launder their profits in a phenomenon that has occurred widely in Central America and the Caribbean transit countries.

A perennial challenge for Cape Verde has been the untold number of foreign vessels used to illegally deplete its valuable offshore fish stocks. The country's coast guard is well aware of this threat to their natural resources and all six ships boarded during this operation were fishing vessels. Combined operations such as this one allow Cape Verdeans to conduct more aggressive fisheries protection boardings well offshore.

Areas for Growth

The Coast Guard's work with port security can augment and support both AFRICOM's and the Commander, Naval Forces Europe's efforts in Africa. The African ports are considered the economic engines of the coastal African nations and hinterland countries that rely on maritime trade. Because of the Coast Guard's port security mission and its expertise, Congress directed the service to conduct formal foreign visits in support of the international ship and port facility security code, regulated by the International Maritime Organization. Many African nations have requested a Coast Guard assessment. While port security engagement was not part of the Dallas ' Africa Partnership Station visit, this mission should remain a focus for future Coast Guard and APS operations.

In embarking the Cape Verde law enforcement detachment it is important to note that the operational concept included a full unit instead of a ship rider, as is the norm with bilateral operations in the Caribbean, Central, and South America. A ship rider in law enforcement terms is a representative of the host country with the authority to allow Coast Guard law enforcement teams to enforce that state's laws on its behalf. The participation of an operational detachment gave Cape Verde the opportunity to acquire valuable interaction and familiarity with U.S. procedures as well as the experience of boarding large vessels outside their territorial seas. The Dallas ' crew also delivered law enforcement equipment—protective gear including helmets, body armor, and life vests—to outfit additional Cape Verdean boarding teams.

In addition to the capacity building dimension, major upgrades were made to the nation's operations center that allowed its leadership to communicate in real time, using translation software, simultaneously with the Dallas and those coordinating the operation from Naples, Italy. This allowed closer coordination of the boarding team and immediate consultation with leadership when key legal and jurisdictional issues arose.

Creating a Blueprint

Planning and preparation were essential to this operation's success. Close interagency coordination was the factor that allowed breakthroughs to occur. As one example, the U.S. embassy in the capital, Praia, played a critical role in facilitating the signing of the bilateral agreement between the United States and Cape Verde to conduct combined maritime law enforcement operations. This milestone agreement is expected to be a blueprint for future operations with other African nations, helping them to expand their maritime domain awareness to include their entire 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone in conjunction with the United States and other international partners.

The Cape Verde operation involved several other nations, a cornerstone principle of both AFRICOM and the Navy's global maritime partnership initiative. The French provided maritime patrol aircraft support and a naval liaison officer on board the Dallas . The participation of French patrol aircraft combined with a U.S. Navy P-3 proved the importance of the monitor-and-detection function to increase the effectiveness of future endeavors. Officers from Equatorial Guinea also rode the Dallas as observers.

Rather than simply training our African partners, the United States needs to involve them in combined exercises and operations that help them build and sustain their nations' maritime forces. The desire to protect and preserve their resources and exercise sovereignty over their waters is strong. The trans-global threats of drug and human trafficking, piracy, and terrorism require international coordination, regional cooperation, and continuing action.

Future training provided by the Navy, Coast Guard, and our international partners should be enhanced by real-world operations such as those by the Dallas with Cape Verde. As AFRICOM's mission statement declared, we must continue to work "in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners . . . to conduct military-to-military programs . . . to promote a stable and secure African environment." 3

This Africa Partnership Station deployment to Cape Verde generated significant breakthroughs that should impact the way the United States approaches maritime security in the future. The operation clearly demonstrated that international cooperation to enhance maritime security and protect natural resources works.


1. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) located in Stuttgart, Germany, under the command of Army General William E. "Kip" Ward, attained interim operating capability on 1 October 2007 and will reach unified command status on 1 October 2008.

2. UNODC World Drug Report 2007: Cocaine Trafficking in West Africa, October 2007.

3. Because U.S. Coast Guard vessels under the tactical control of the U.S. Navy are not permitted to exercise law enforcement, it was necessary to have tactical control shifted to the Coast Guard for the Dallas to take law enforcement action. The Commodore, Cape Verde Interdiction Operations was delegated authority by the Coast Guard to issue Statements of No Objection for appropriate law enforcement actions during this operation.

Captain Heyl is the chief staff officer for the Operations Logistics Directorate, and senior Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Coast Guard representative to AFRICOM. He previously served as deputy director of Coast Guard Operational Capabilities at Coast Guard Headquarters, and as commander of Sector Key West from 2003-2006. He helped create the Costa Rican and Haitian Coast Guards.


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