PARIS – France and 14 West African nations recently held the first Grand African NEMO (Navy Exercise for Maritime Operations) drill, a week-long training session that is slated to become an annual event.

Led by the French Mistral helicopter carrier, equipped for the occasion with just one Alouette 3 helicopter, and the frigate Ventose, other ships in the fleet included a 500-ton Cameroonian patrol boat, a Nigerian frigate, Gambia's Kunta Kinteh patrol boat with a crew of 20, and Benin's FBP98 Mk1-class P110 Ouémé patrol vessel.

The 14 African navies had been working on various scenarios for many months, Captain Vincent Sébastien, commander of the Mistral, told Defense News. “They were particularly keen to work on combatting illegal fishing,” he said. They finally settled on 27 scenarios which they played out from Cape Verde to Angola with 21 ships and five aircraft.

The exercise was backed by partner navies, notably from the United States and Spain, which deployed its P-72 Centinela, and the European Union's Gulf of Guinea Interregional Network. Brazil and Portugal were also involved in the exercise.

The scenarios included search and rescue, fighting piracy, and combating illegal fishing and arms' smuggling. The “enemies” were played by French and Portuguese marines based aboard the Mistral.

A French defense ministry statement said that “for the African navies, the result of these exercises was very positive, notably concerning tactical interactions.” At the end of the week-long exercise last month, U.S., Portuguese and French naval observers provided the African navies with feedback “which will help them to adjust their training in the future,” the statement added.

Grand African Nemo has its genesis in the 2013 Yaounde, Cameroon summit in which countries which border the Gulf of Guinea (Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, Angola and Congo) pledged to strengthen their maritime-security cooperation.

Smaller exercises organized by these countries are held several times a year and dubbed simply “African NEMO.”