Sao Tome and Principe, West Africa. (January 21, 2023): “Travel to exotic places, meet interesting people” goes the famous 1970s recruiting pitch. No assignment fits that description better than assignment to the tiny nation of Aao Tome and Principe. In this photo by MC2 Andrew Waters, Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Nathaniel Yarbrough, assigned to Navy Underwater Construction Team 1, follows a buoy chain to surface during an underwater survey of a coast guard pier. These divers belong to the famous Seabees underwater construction units numbered 1 and 2 that were created in 1974. They specialize in both underwater construction and demolition and are in Sao Tome and Principe as part of the Navy’s Africa Partnership, a multinational strategic program to increase the professionalism of African militaries.
They do this by conducting joint exercises, port visits, hands-on practical courses, and community outreach with the coastal nations of Africa. Underwater Construction Team 1, comprised of seven officers and seventy-one enlisted, is assisting local coast guards to maintain their underwater facilities and teaching skills that enhance their ability to respond to mariners in distress.
The Navy’s Africa Partnership participants also do ship and aircraft visits and send training teams to various construction projects throughout the year. The goal is to improve the ability of these nations to enforce the rule of law within their territorial waters to combat illegal fishing, human smuggling, drug trafficking, and piracy.
The two islands of São Tomé and Principe, along with a few associated rocky islets, are in the Gulf of Guinea on the southern coast of West Africa. São Tomé, Portuguese for "Saint Thomas", is the capital and was founded in the 15th century making it is one of Africa's oldest colonial cities. These islands were valued for their rich volcanic soil and proximity to the equator which made them ideal for sugar cane cultivation. Much of the labor to produce these cash crops came from enslaved Africans. Ironically, the main reason for the decline in the European population was the tropical diseases which blighted the islands.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Sao Tome and Principe in 1976, following its independence from Portugal, and relations with Sao Tome and Principe are excellent. Situated in the oil-rich, strategically significant Gulf of Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe is a member of the Economic Community of Central African States and has been an active player in regional maritime security exercises.