Special Feature

French Navy Here to Train Liberia Coast Guard

A French military boat, Commandant Blaison, arrived at the port of Monrovia Monday for a mission aimed at training the Liberian Coast Guard, a mission that will end this week-end.

“We are here for cooperation with the Coast Guard, essentially for training.” Ménager, Deputy Commanding officer of the French crew, told the New Dawn during a tour of the ship on Wednesday. “We have common activities with the local coast guards.”

The ship, 80 meter long and 11 meter large, has a total number of 93 crew members who are all from the French Navy.

They will be training the national Coast Guard on how to defend the territorial water of Liberia, by making sure the laws of the state are well protected in said territorial water. “The actions of the state on sea also include the fight against drug and child trafficking, as well as stopping those who are illegally entering the Liberian water for fishing.” Ménager said.

After a decade’s long maritime security gap, Liberia signaled its commitment to secure its seas with the activation of its new Liberian Coast Guard (LCG) at the 53rd Annual Armed Forces Day February 11, 2010. Liberia emerged from a bloody 14-year-long civil war in 2003 and its military has been completely rebuilt via the U.S. State Department’s Security Sector Reform (SSR) program, which began in 2006. The Liberian Coast Guard is the newest addition to the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).

Since its civil war, Liberia’s 360 mile coast line and 1,900 square mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was defenseless against the abuses of illegal fishing, drug trafficking, human smuggling and other illegal activities. National losses were estimated at $12 million USD annually.

At the request of the Government of Liberia, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) assessed the situation in 2008 and provided recommendations for reestablishing the LCG. As part of the State Department’s SSR program, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is coordinating and funding this reestablishment project. The Government of Liberia and its Ministry of Defense lead this initiative with AFRICOM coordinating support from its component commands, the USCG and State Department. Throughout the next three years the United States will provide $5 million in training, equipment and infrastructure to the new coast guard.

The USCG assigned an officer to the Office of Security Cooperation in Monrovia, Liberia in 2009. The USCG commander serves as a maritime advisor to the LCG and oversees U.S. funding and training. USCG Mobile Training Teams have provided courses in Liberia, and many LCG members received technical training at schools in the US.

U.S. Navy Seabees are overseeing the construction of three major infrastructure projects valued at $1.3 million – a pier, a boat ramp and perimeter wall, work being funded by AFRICOM’s Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance Division. The Dutch vessel HNLMS Johan de Witt, operating as an Africa Partnership Station (APS) platform, delivered U.S. Navy Seabees heavy equipment via amphibious landing and also participated in a joint (Dutch/US) hydrographic survey of three ports in Liberia. China and Sweden have also provided training and technical assistance for the LCG.

The overall goal is the LCG to be part of the effort to secure West Africa’s seas for legitimate maritime commerce in support of overall regional security. AFRICOM is helping Liberia rebuild its maritime interdiction capability in order to control illegal activities, including poaching, drug trafficking and human smuggling, provide for search and rescue and disaster response, and acquire maritime domain awareness.

The Liberian National Coast Guard, the military establishment’s seaborne element, began operations in 1959 after the de livery of two 40-foot patrol boats from the United States. According to the act of the legislature that created the coast guard, it was responsible for protecting lives and property at sea, preventing smuggling, aiding navigation, and enforcing pollution standards within the 200-nautical-mile limit of Liberia’s territorial waters. The coast guard had law enforcement jurisdiction in Liberian ter ritorial waters and was empowered to prevent any persons from entering the country “when it was believed that the presence of such persons would endanger the security of the state.”

The assistant minister for coast guard affairs in the Ministry of National Defense oversaw the force. In 1984 this position was held by Captain S. Weaka Peters, a former commandant of the coast guard. Patrick D. Wallace, the commandant in 1984, led a force consisting of six patrol craft and some 450 officers and ratings, which were organized into three major commands: the Coast Guard Base Unit, the Task Force Unit, and the Port Security/ Search and Rescue Unit.

In addition, since 1977 the coast guard has also been responsible for operating the nation’s network of coastal lighthouses. The Task Force Unit included three 50? Ton, Swedish-built coastal patrol craft that were delivered in 1980 as well as three smaller American?built patrol craft delivered in 1976. The relatively small size of the Liberian vessels limited their use to coastal waters. The craft were usually based at Elijah Johnson Coast Guard Base at Freeport in Monrovia, but they could operate from coast guard bases at Buchanan, Greenville, and Cape Palmas.

In 1984 the coast guard was considered to be the best trained and most professional component of the AFL. It was handicapped, however, by a lack of funding to maintain all vessels in the inventory. The serviceability of the fleet was also hampered by reluctance on the part of the Swedish government to provide spare parts for the craft it had supplied. Thus, only one of the Swedish patrol craft was operational, and the other two had been immobilized by the lack of spare parts.

In late 2002 the Navy Division of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), under the command of Lt. General Roland Duo, recaptured the strategic town of Kolahun in northern Lofa County from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). General Roland Duo, General Frontline Commander of the Armed Forces of Liberia, is also Chief of Staff of the Navy Division of the Armed Forces of Liberia [as of October 2002]. For nearly two years the strategic town of Kolahun in northern Lofa County had been under siege by LURD.

Finally, President Charles Taylor speaking at a news conference in Monrovia announced that government troops were in full control of Kolahun and the strategic town of Foya. The recapture of the two key cities followed clashes between the Navy division of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) under the command of General Roland Duo and LURD forces. On October 21, 2002 a team of local and foreign journalists visited the embattled Lofa region on a fact-finding mission.

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