The authorities could do more to safeguard Nigeria’s territorial waters

From available data, while the incidence of sea piracy is dropping in other territorial waters, it is increasing here in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. That should worry the authorities especially given the recent warning by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) that attacks by sea-borne bandits off the West African coast are on the rise in Nigeria. To compound the problem, the United Nations Security Council was told last week that Nigeria was losing about $1.5 billion a month due to piracy, armed robberies at sea, smuggling, and fuel supply fraud as piracy and armed robberies in the Gulf of Guinea are on the rise.

Ambassador Michele J. Sison, the United States’ Deputy Representative to the UN, said in the open debate on peace consolidation in West Africa titled “Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea” that the root causes of piracy in the region are ineffective governance structures, weak rule of law, precarious legal frameworks, and inadequate naval, coast guard, and maritime law enforcement. “The absence of an effective maritime governance system, in particular, hampers freedom of movement in the region, disrupts trade and economic growth, and facilitates environmental crimes,” she said.

That global attention is now on Nigerian waters is understandable. Between January and March 2016, several attacks were reported off Nigeria’s coast. This involved armed pirates stealing cargoes of crude oil and petroleum products. Within the period, no fewer than 44 ship crew members were also abducted. Describing them as “unacceptable”, the director of IMB, Pottengal Mukundan said reports in the last quarter of 2015 were indicative of more violence against ships and crews in the Gulf of Guinea, particularly around Nigeria than anywhere in the world.

In the first quarter of this year, no fewer than 14 commercial vessels were attacked in Nigeria’s maritime domain. In six of these incidents, 23 crew members were kidnapped for ransom running into hundreds of millions of naira. Against the background that piracy has been on the decline since 2012 after international naval patrols were launched off East Africa in response to a spate of violent attacks by mostly Somali-based pirates, the Nigerian authorities should be worried about recent developments on our territorial waters.

The spate of attacks is worrisome as it has given Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea a very negative image in the comity of maritime nations. It has also led to the high cost of freight as ship owners and crew members often demand for high insurance premiums before embarking on any voyage to Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. Apart from reducing the number of vessels calling at the nation’s seaports due to the fear of attacks, it has helped in no small measure to increase the cost of doing business as ship owners and consignees are compelled to charge higher than they do for other places. These huge costs are eventually passed off to the final consumer. The number of lives lost to such crime aside, piracy drives fear into shipping practitioners, especially ship captains and Master Mariners.

While there is unanimity among shipping practitioners that sea piracy cannot be totally eradicated, it is also a fact that with concerted efforts by all the relevant stakeholders, the menace can be minimised. In addressing the challenge, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Dr. Dakuku Peterside said recently that a legal framework that would prescribe stiffer sanctions, a more vigorous and vigilant military-led patrol, and better intelligence gathering network would be required.

We hope Dakuku would help to put such measures in place so that Nigerian territorial waters will not continue to harbour criminals.