July 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy has dispatched a second ship, the USNS Carson City, this year to the Gulf of Guinea on West Africa's southern coast to help deal with security needs, including piracy.
The Military Sealift Command Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ship departed Rota, Spain, on Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said in a news release.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Thetis was the first U.S. ship to deploy to the Gulf of Guinea in 2019. The area is the northeasternmost part of the tropical Atlantic Ocean between Cape Lopez in Gabon, north and west to Cape Palmas in Liberia. The intersection of the Equator and Prime Meridian is in the gulf.
"The deployment of USNS Carson City to the Gulf of Guinea enables our partners to improve maritime security along their coastlines, territorial seas, and exclusive economic zones," said Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, said in a statement. "Maritime security is critical for coastal nations as seaborne trade is the lifeblood of global trade. When maritime trade freely sails across the seas, economic development and opportunities for prosperity are possible."
The Gulf of Guinea is the world's most pirate-infested sea. According to the International Maritime Bureau, reports of attacks between the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo more than doubled in 2018, including all six hijackings worldwide, 13 of the 18 ships fired upon, 130 of the 141 hostages taken globally, and 78 of 83 seafarers kidnapped for ransom.
U.S. military personnel will work alongside U.S. partners in Cabo Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal "to provide assistance based on host nation requests during previous APS exercise and engagements," according to the Navy. In addition, the crew and European allies "will provide host nation-requested, needs-based assistance through engagements as part of our enduring friendship and partnership with our African partners."
Mission personnel include a small boat maintenance and repair team, a medical team, U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement personnel, and the U.S. Naval Forces Europe band.
"We have a lot of experts embarked aboard Carson City to work alongside our Gulf of Guinea partners in areas they have asked for assistance such as maintenance and medical engagements," said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Howard Gray, lead planner for Carson City deployment.
Service members from Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian navies are also joining Carson City for the deployment. Also, members of the Ghana Navy for a brief period and "together, we are promoting progress through partnership," Foggo said.
Earlier, the Thetis conducted training with African partners on maritime law enforcement throughout exercise Obangame Express 2019 and continued training the partners in the region during deployment.
"The presence of U.S. ships such as Thetis and Carson City helps address some of the challenges our African navies and coast guards have requested assistance with, including law enforcement and maritime resource management," Foggo said.
The Carson City was deployed to the Black Sea last August and docked at the Port of Constanta, Romania.
The Carson City ,which is part of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, is named after the capital of Nevada and was delivered to the Navy in 2016.
USNS Carson City is the seventh of nine expeditionary fast transport ships, which can seat 312 people, according to Austal USA, the manufacturer.
It can hold up to 600 tons and sail at an average speed of 35 knots, according to the Navy.