Israel Shipyards Limited (ISL) is preparing to deliver two 62m offshore patrol vessels (OPV) to Equatorial Guinea’s small navy. The yard says a launch ceremony was held last month and attended by top naval officers from the oil-rich but authoritarian west African island state.
The dignataries included Admiral Vicente Eya Olomo, the Vice-Minister of National Defence; Admiral Roberto Ndong, the General Manager (Secretario General) of the Ministry of National Defence; and Admiral Joaquin Ndong Nve the Naval Chief of staff.
“The two vessels are now being prepared for the delivery to the customer,” the shipyard says in its news column. The crew of the two vessels have been at the yard for some time to receive “intensive operational and maintenance training.”
Janes, the authoritative defence publisher, reports the little nation reportedly purchased two 24.8m-long Shaldag Mk II fast patrol boats through Israel Military Industries (IMI) in 2004. They were built at ISL and delivered in 2005 at a reported cost of US$10 million. ISL adds that at least two Shaldag Mk II has also been in service with the Nigerian Navy since June 2009.
Reliable information on Equatorial Guinea and its military are hard to come by. In November it was reported the country was negotiating the purchase of up to three corvettes worth an estimated price of US$90 million from South Korea. The Defence Professionals website, defpro.com, quoted the Yonhap news agency as saying a South Korean official had confirmed Equatorial Guinea’s interest in buying three corvettes. According to Yonhap, negotiations began after Equatorial Guinea’s President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, met his counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, in mid-August during a visit to Seoul.
Portuguese-language reports in July last year suggested Equatorial Guinea was to purchase a Barroso-class corvette from Brazil. The reported deal followed a visit to the former Spanish colony by Brazil’s then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The defensa.com website reported initial discussions started in February 2010. A memorandum of understanding for that acquisition was reportedly signed July 6 with Emgepron, “a private company linked to the Ministry of Defence through the General Staff of the Brazilian Navy.”
As a new African oil power with a Gross Domestic Product of US$15.7 billion in 2008 and a defence budget of US$8.4 billion in 2007, Equatorial Guinea can arguably afford such a ship, but its ability to operate or maintain it is unclear. The respected Military Balance annual of the International Institute for Strategic Studies put the size of the nation’s navy at just 120 in 2009. Its air force reportedly mustered 100 and its army 1100. The navy, based at Bata on Malabo Island is listed as owning two inshore patrol craft, one larger patrol vessel as well as two river patrol boats. The Guardia Civil also owns an inshore patrol vessel. The operational status of these vessels are unknown.
The US Coast Guard in a press release dated July 14, 2008, also noted five vessels, adding that US
Ambassador Donald C. Johnson watched “a formation of five Equatorial Guinea Navy vessels … passing in review in front of downtown Malabo” along with “several host-nation military and civilian dignitaries to observe the review from a shore-side vantage point” as part of a three-day visit there by the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas (WHEC 716) in support of US Naval Forces Africa’s Africa Partnership Station (APS) initiative.
“During Dallas’ visit, several crewmembers teamed up with Equatorial Guinean naval officers to train in Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) tactics as well as Search and Rescue (SAR) procedures. The at-sea exercises, which included both counter-terrorism and search-and-rescue drills, were intended to reinforce the shore side training,” the statement read. “I was very impressed with the level of detail and professionalism demonstrated by the Equatorial Guinea Navy in planning and executing these exercises,” said Captain Robert Wagner, commanding officer of Dallas.