The menace of piracy within the nation’s territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea has for a long time remained the concern of Nigeria and her neighbouring West African countries. This is considering the implication on the national economy and to a large extent the international shipping community. Over the years, the West and Central African states had suffered blackmail from international conference liners as a result of piracy in Nigeria and Gulf of Guinea. According to the latest report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) , the number of crew kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea increased more than 50% from 78 in 2018 to 121 in 2019. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in its analysis equates this figure to over 90% of global kidnappings reported at sea with 64 crew members kidnapped across six separate incidents in the last quarter of 2019 alone. The report had it that the region “accounted for 64 incidents including all four vessel hijackings that occurred in 2019, as well as 10 out of 11 vessels that reported coming under fire”.
The Director of the ICC International Maritime Bureau, Michael Howlett, was early this year quoted saying, “We remain concerned that this region has recorded an unprecedented rise in crew kidnaps”.
The liners in response to the attacks have had to introduce their own security measures to check the pirates. Part of this includes having armed personnel on board vessels when on voyage to Nigeria and other West African states. This means extra cost to the liners. While this is good, the sad aspect of this arrangement is the fact that the shippers are the ones that pay for the cost of hiring these guards. This is by way of various shipping charges/surcharges introduced by the liners through their agents. It would be recalled that the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) as the ports economic regulator had cried out over the effect of such surcharges on the economy. But the fact remains that there appears to be clear justification if liners introduce charges to cover costs on what is spent on armed guards protecting them during voyage to Nigeria and West African countries.
War against piracy
With the largest market with records of more shipping traffic, Nigeria is spearheading a strong war against pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. As the apex maritime regulatory agency, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is saddled with the corporate responsibility of addressing issues of piracy and other armed attacks on Nigerian waters. In line with this, NIMASA had in the past few years championed the deployment of an integrated maritime security infrastructure that is expected to check piracy in the country. Few months ago, the Minister of Transport, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi hinted of the planned launch of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure which is also referred to as the Deep Blue Project. The planned launch follows government’s decision to terminate the contract on secure anchorage project which provided security to big time liners on voyage to Nigeria.
According to the Minister, the deep blue project remains the only way to reduce piracy on the nation’s waters and the GoG when it comes into force.
Amaechi had said, “Recall that we secured an approval from the Federal Executive Council to introduce a maritime security architecture, which is coming to fruition. We engaged the Homeland Security International (HLSI), who are only to provide training and equipment, while the Nigerian Navy would lead the Police, Nigerian Army and Department of State Services, among others that would run the equipment.”
Except for the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe, the management of NIMASA had early this year said that the 80 percent of the assets required for implementation of the deep blue project would be ready by June, 2020.
NIMASA’s preparation for the war against piracy has been on for long with the launch of two special mission vessels built in Netherlands. The two vessels were launched in July 2019.The vessels acquired through an Israeli company, Blue Octagon, are to check issues of maritime security , including inspection and rescue operations by NIMASA, tackling illegal fishing, terrorism, oil theft, illegal immigration and smuggling . The two vessels, DB Abuja and DB Lagos, are designed in such a way that a helicopter can land on the aft deck. Each of the vessels has the capacity to carry as much as 38 people. Among other security infrastructure planned by NIMASA in the fight against piracy included 10 fast interceptor boats, seven more which are expected in the country during the year, two special mission aircraft, three helicopters, four unmanned aerial vehicles and 16 armoured vehicles.
At the recent inauguration of the Board of NIMASA, Amaechi had reminded the agency to speed up with the completion of the Deep Blue Project. The project, according to Amaechi, remained critical to maritime security in Nigeria and the entire West and Central Africa region. The Minister disclosed that about 60 per cent of the project’s cost had been paid by the federal government.
In his words, the success of NIMASA would to a great extent be dependent on the completion of the project.
Chairman of the Board, Hon. Asita O. Asita, had in turn pledged to work harmoniously with the NIMASA management to deliver the agency’s mandate. He said, “If we must trade as a country, we need the waterways to be safe.”
The Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, on assuming office had expressed his commitment to develop the blue economy for the interest of the country. He had said, “As you already know, NIMASA has the core mandate of promoting and regulating shipping in the country. Concomitant with this mandate is the responsibility of ensuring safety of the Nigerian maritime domain for ease of maritime transportation, which is one of the critical catalysts for economic development. It is in realisation of this, and in pursuit of the next level agenda of the President Mohammadu Buhari administration that I urge you all to join hands with us to build an enduring and prosperous maritime sector”.
Jamoh had also on the occasion of his 100 days in office restated the commitment of the agency in the war against piracy in Nigerian and the Gulf of Guinea. He said his agency was even more strengthened now following the passage of the Anti-piracy Law, adding that this will help a lot in the fight against piracy. Jamoh promised that NIMASA will introduce a new approach of having working groups who will identify problems and proffer solutions. He said, “We have sent good signals to the international communities and they understand that Nigeria is not sleeping, that the government of Nigeria is very serious in fighting this piracy.
“And then to those criminals, that they know we have trained 156 personnel from the Nigerian Navy, NIMASA, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigeria Police Force, and the Attorney General of the Federation, whose responsibility it is to try these offenders.”
He disclosed that there will be a common purpose of the agency’s single window – C4i and that of the Falcon Eye of the Nigerian Navy, NPA’s CEi maritime domain security platforms which will be targeted at having operational effectiveness for a common national objective..
He added, “We have a Regional Maritime Coordinating Centre here in Lagos, in our Resource Centre. This Centre takes care of nine countries in Africa. Where ever there is challenge of safety, this Centre will be available to respond to that, and we have four Centers.
“Our Resource Centre is working perfectly, we have imported the machineries, and all equipment are there. We have another at Takwa Bay – the equipment are already there, we are waiting for the experts to come from the UK to programme the equipment. Once we do that, we are finished with Lagos/ Western axis.
“In the Eastern and South-South part of the country, we have Bonny and Escravous. So, this one, we are importing the equipment from the UK. As soon as COVID-19 lockdown eases, we hope to bring the equipment and install. We are looking between September/October and we have our own Global Maritime Distress and Safety System(GMDSS) working perfectly. With these, there is no way with ship missing of having problem within our territorial water and outside.”
Industry stakeholders believe that once the issue of piracy is tackled as is being planned, it will usher in a better shipping environment in the country with Nigerian and the rest of African sub-region being able to challenge liners on rising charges for goods coming to this side of the continent. A maritime lawyer, Mr Emma Ofomata believes that once the pirate attacks are tackled, it will impact positively on maritime trade in Nigeria and the rest of the West African sub-region. Ofomata said, “efficient security has a way of promoting the economy generally. In the past few years, the excuses being given by shipping agents on some of the charges are traced to insecurity in our waters and the Gulf of Guinea. This was even the reason for the safe anchorage contract that was cancelled. So, once this problem is tackled with the latest efforts of the government, there is no doubt that Nigeria will be a safer place for liners and there will not be any need for having armed guards on board. This will in turn reduce charges on goods”.
Ofomata expressed optimism that the NIMASA management under Jamoh will hasten efforts at actualizing the dreams of the maritime community on having a pirate free shipping environment with the deep blue project. “Jamoh understands the need for the urgent facilitation of the project. He is committed to the project knowing full well its great importance to Nigeria”.
NIMASA is collaborating with the Nigerian Navy in the war against piracy, a development that has achieved some good results. The collaboration involves information sharing between NIMASA’s Command, Control, communication, computers, and Intelligence Centre (C4i Centre} of the Deep Blue Project, which operates on 24 hour basis since last year. Following the partnership, the Navy had arrested a vessel, MFV Marine 707, which was engaged in illegal fishing in Nigeria. 10 pirates who had boarded a Chinese vessel, MV HAILUFANG II, off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire and forced the vessel to sail towards Nigerian waters, were also arrested by the Navy.
Apparently pleased with the efforts of NIMASA in the war against piracy, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), had recently commended the agency for the measures adopted by Nigeria in the fight against piracy internally and in the Gulf of Guinea GoG).
The Secretary General of IMO, Mr. Kitack Lim, said in a letter to the Director-General of the agency , Dr. Bashir Jamoh, that the efforts by Nigeria on piracy was a “strong and valuable message” to the global community.
Lim said he was pleased by the update provided by Jamoh during a virtual meeting held in May during which all the efforts taken by Nigeria to address maritime security threats in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea were presented.
Commending NIMASA DG for such leadership and proactive response, the IMO scribe also congratulated the Nigerian Navy on the “successful capture and arrest of pirates from the fishing trawler Hailufeng11, and more recently on the rescue of the crewmembers of the containership Tommi Ritsche”.
He said, “Those actions, together with all the other initiatives you highlighted in our meeting, including progress with the Deep Blue Project, send a strong and valuable message to the international community with respect to the considerable efforts your government is making to curb piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Guinea”.
Jamoh who had at a virtual meeting raised concerns about piracy in the GoG had appealed for support from the international community to complement the efforts being taken by Nigeria towards addressing issues of maritime crimes.
He had said during the virtual meeting, “The recent arrests of pirates have opened our eyes to a new and even more dangerous dimension to the issue of piracy and armed robbery in our waters, and that is the issue of foreign collaboration. The arrests involved Nigerians and other nationalities, whose identities I cannot disclose because the cases are under investigation.
“Piracy is taking an international dimension. We now know that pirates and other maritime criminals in our waters and the Gulf of Guinea operate with strong backing from powerful international collaborators.
“So we earnestly desire the cooperation of the international community, individual countries, organisations, and individuals to stem the ugly tide of insecurity in our waters.
“We will continue to do our best and update IMO as we make progress with our strategies.”
Lim assured that he was ready to work with NIMASA for such important priority in the fight against piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Guinea.