With the recent hijack of an oil vessel, MT Sampatiki and abduction of its crew in Delta State, Nosa Alekhuogie reasons that adequate measures should be put in place by the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA to rid the nation’s waterways of piracy
Maritime insecurity in Nigeria waters keeps growing at a disturbing rate and is threatening the global flow of goods and services across the world’s shipping lines.
Maritime operators have continued to witness intense attacks as pirates have made their vessels carrying oil and gas their targets. Although these attacks have been on over the years, the rate has increased in recent times. Over 13 vessels have been hijacked on Nigerian territorial waters between 2015 and 2016, showing the dangerous dimension the trend is assuming.
Porous security on the waterways
While there have been efforts to stop these attacks, it is obvious that such efforts are not good enough. Analysts said there is the need for more commitment to safeguard the territorial waters against all forms of threats including piracy, sea robbery, poaching.
In view of the increasing hijacks and kidnapping over the years, it is certain that the security on our territorial waters is very porous and needs to be tightened.
In Nigeria, piracy and maritime militant activities are particularly rampant in the waters and around the coast of the Niger Delta.
Speaking at a press briefing in Lagos, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside pointed out that there is no way security can always be readily available at all times but prompt response is very paramount.
While NIMASA takes responsibility for activities in the maritime industry, the agency needs the collaboration of other security agencies and stakeholders to make our waterways safer.
Analysts said there should be a division of responsibilities between the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Police so the safety of the waterways is not left to NIMASA alone.
Some stakeholders have also argued that the benefits of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA have not been well maximised.
Some have said the Navy’s largely dysfunctional logistical and administrative infrastructure is also an underlying problem contributing largely to the number of hijacks on the high sea.
However, Peterside noted that the INTERPOL and the Nigerian Navy are putting in efforts to ensure that if the piracy cannot be completely eradicated, it should at least, be reduced to the barest minimal.
Securing the water ways
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has promised that the Nigeria’s maritime sector will become the hub of trade in Africa. This can only be possible if the Nigerian territorial waters are secure.
Amaechi, had at a recent training workshop on port state control in Lagos, expressed the hope that with an enhanced safety regime and the full cooperation of core maritime stakeholders, the safety of the coastal waters would be guaranteed, which will in turn boost the economic development in the maritime sector.
Experts and stakeholders have continually called on the federal government and several agencies of the government, NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy in particular, to take full responsibility to curb the menace of piracy and other illegal activities on our waterways.
NIMASA, which has also proposed a draft of the Anti-piracy Bill to the National Assembly, explained that the satellite surveillance facility is still very active.
According to UK’s maritime intelligence and operations company Dryad Maritime, thieves will almost certainly continue to board and rob vessels on an opportunistic basis throughout West Africa, make the most of dark, nights and lax on board security. It is possible that hijack for cargo theft will again increase as the country adjusts to the lower price of fuel.
During a recent teleconference in Lagos, the Chief of Multinational Coordination Centre Zone D Captain , Sylvester Founkoua Mbah advised the Nigerian government to ensure that West and Central African countries worked together to combat piracy, illicit trafficking and illegal fishing, among others.
He remarked that government needed to improve its maritime capabilities, expertise and also, collaborate with other member-countries of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African State (ECCAS) to boost security on the waterways.
He said: “Regional security is vital to us all, and mutual understanding makes us a stronger, faster team. Maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea has improved due to our collective efforts. It takes strength, co-operation, and commitment to combat the criminals who operate at sea. That is why we talked about a collective partnership and with the American Navy and African navies to train together in order to overcome these threats.”
Lasting Solutions to Piracy
Going by the history of piracy in countries like the United States of America, the case of ship hijacking is rarely heard. The US coast guard is extremely alert and professional and the coast is well guarded. Can Nigeria with piracy activities along her coasts say the same? This is the question on the lips of many stakeholders.
Though there has been several debates about the use of armed security teams, which is not only centered on the legality of the weapons, but also the obvious associated dangers of having arms on board oil and gas tankers, which are floating bombs.
Stakeholders in the maritime sector have suggested that the various Nigerian maritime security operatives should be well trained and mobilised to be able to combat the piracy because these pirates come heavily prepared.