Wednesday, April 16, 2008

U.S. 6th Fleet's Southeast Africa Task Force Arrives in Madagascar

By Gillian Brigham, U.S. Naval Forces Europe Public Affairs

ANTSIRANANA, Madagascar (NNS) -- The dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) pulled into Antsiranana, a small port city on the northern tip of Madagascar, Tuesday, April 15.

Antsiranana is Ashland's third stop on her current deployment with U.S. 6th Fleet's Southeast Africa Task Force, promoting maritime safety and security in the region. The ship recently visited the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Reunion.

Notably, this is only the second time a U.S. Navy ship has visited Madagascar since 1972. USS Normandy (CG 60) also called on the country last year during its assignment to the Southeast Africa Task Force.

While Ashland is docked in Antsiranana, the ship will host Malagasy Sailors for a day of shipboard drills and information exchanges. The embarked U.S. Naval Forces Europe brass quintet will play a number of concerts in conjunction with the Malagasy navy band and commander of the Southeast Africa Task Force, Capt. Nicholas H. Holman, will meet with government and military officials to discuss on-going initiatives to build maritime capabilities in the region.

"The goal is to assist African nations so that they can better police their own territorial waters," said Holman. "We want to equip them with the knowledge and the tools to crack down on crimes like unlawful fishing, piracy, drug trafficking and other illegal behavior that destabilizes the maritime environment, the economy and, ultimately, the security of the region."

Ashland Sailors are also benefiting from the ship's mission to bring a greater awareness of the maritime environment to other navies in the Indian Ocean.

"This deployment has been a wonderful opportunity for my Sailors to see a part of the world not many people in the U.S. Navy have visited before," said Ashland Commanding Officer Cmdr. Jeff Ward. "It's also gratifying for the crew to play such an active role in forging partnerships with these nations.

"Whether we're running damage control drills with Malagasy Sailors or giving tours of the ship to foreign military officials, we are ultimately laying the groundwork for the strong maritime relationships the U.S. Navy hopes to build in this region. It's an invaluable experience and one that I'm sure will make an impact on them personally and professionally," he added.

This is the second deployment of CTF-363's Southeast Africa Task Force. In 2007, CTF-363-assigned assets USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) and USS Normandy (CG 60) visited eight Southeast African nations. For many of these countries, it was the first time a U.S. Navy ship had visited in more than 40 years.