Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent apprehension of four Nigerians who tried to stow away on a Malaysian-bound vessel, was a fallout of the recent basic maritime operations course which operatives of the Marine Police Command attended

“I had no other option but to travel out of the country since I couldn’t make it in Nigeria. I didn’t want to steal so I decided to stowaway. Although I was in South Africa before I was deported, I decided to try France after some of my friends who had earlier stowed away to France called me to come over.”

Those were the very words of serial stowaway, 24-year-old Ahmed Azeez, a Kwara indigene, whose recent attempt to stowaway on a Malaysian-bound vessel was foiled.

Aside Azeez, the three others identified as 33-year-old Tunde Yagba and 33-year-old Ajose Kehinde, were recently paraded at the Marine Police Command, Lagos, and the fourth suspect, 25-year-old Adewale Sunday was hospitalised following an ulcer wound.

In their confessions at the jetty of the Marine Police Command, Victoria Island, Lagos, the suspects said they had all travelled to other countries like France, South Africa and Brazil in the past, but they were caught after some months in the country and were deported. Not deterred by that, they bided their time and this time, their target was a Malaysian-bound cargo vessel, MV Maersk Casablanca.

THISDAY gathered that their modus operandi was to hijack a fisherman’s boat, wait till it was late in the night and then sail to the vessel and smuggle in through the manhole into the vessel, and join arrival at their country of choice, will leave same way and swim to the shore. Whilst in the belly of the vessel, they would feed on the comestibles like gala and garri, dousing it with sachet water.

Their arrest by the Marine Police Command was a positive result of the Basic Marine Operation Course (BMOC) 39 of its officers undertook at the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Quorra recently. The BMOC was a joint collaboration which saw the police undertake trainings in counter maritime crimes like pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft and was targeted at developing capacity for marine and riverine operations for personnel of the police marine wing.

For 12 weeks, 14 assistant superintendents of police, six inspectors, four sergeants and 16 corporals were trained in areas of operations/jurisdiction in the internal waters best practices in seamanship, navigation and other specific areas of maritime operations.

The Suspect’s Confession

Azeez who said he had no other option but to smuggle out of the country added that the other option, which was stealing, wasn’t a viable alternative, hence his decision to stowaway. He said,
“Although I was in South Africa before I was deported, I decided to try France after some of my friends who had earlier stowed away to France called me to come over. We didn’t steal the boat. We paid a fisherman N500 to ferry us across to the vessel. We bought garri and gala to tide us over.”

The mastermind of the group, Ajose said he had in 2009 travelled to Brazil but was later deported, adding that he called the three others so that they can try again. He said, “We all met at the football field where we play football. So since I wanted to travel abroad, I told them of my desire and they all agreed to join me.

“We then bought some garri and gala with a bag of pure water. In the night, we paid a fisherman N500 each to carry us to the vessel and we entered through the manhole. I don’t know how they heard us, maybe it’s the people in the engine room that called the police.

“Because we were at the bottom of the ship, we didn’t know where we were going but all we noticed was that they kept turning. We didn’t know that the police had already alerted them.

“The crew came down to where we were and took us up to the bridge (the room from where the ship is controlled) and fed us some food because we were hungry. At that point, Adewale was already sick. His ulcer started disturbing him so after we were arrested, he was taken to the hospital.”

Also speaking, Yagba, an aspiring footballer said, “It was Ajose that called us together. I told my family but they told me to desist but I had nothing to do so I followed my friends. I regret my actions now because I have shamed by family.” His claims were later collaborated by his in-law, one Mr. Adebayo Onibayo who said, “He told me about his intending trip but I cautioned him. I thought he listened to me. It’s bad friends that caused his ill-fated act.”

The Marine Police’s Strategy

The tracking and arrest of the suspects, which was done by the Marine Police Command of the Nigerian Police was based on a tip off from the Amphibious Ambush Squad of the Marine Command. With the Officer-in-Charge of Marine Command, DSP Ben Ogungbure, under the leadership of the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Marine Police Command, Muhammed Katsina, the operatives began to track their movement, who were without proper documentation.

The tracking paid off as the suspects were arrested and during preliminary interrogation, it was discovered that the suspects have in the past traveled to Brazil, South Africa and some even Canada before they were deported. Speaking with THISDAY, Katsina attributed the arrests on the training of its personnel at the BMOC at NNS Quorra.

Katsina said, “In my maiden speech upon my assumption of office as AIG Maritime, I made a pledge to empower a wide range of security architecture to cover our maritime environment, the waterways and littoral communities. Now, we are gradually dominating the maritime environment through our network of intelligence, which is very active.

“In this matter, it’s a case of self human trafficking and stowaway of four young Nigerians who conspired with a criminal motive to travel out of the country without proper documentation. The suspects, all indigenes of Snake Island Village behind Tincan Island Port, Lagos, conspired with an intent to commit felony. They stole a canoe under the cover of darkness and paddled to a Malaysian-bound cargo ship MV Maersk Casablanca.

“The vessel was berthed at Tincan Island Port and trespassed into the vessel. They dived into the water and sneaked through the propeller into the manhole, where they hid themselves in a small compartment. It happened that 23 hours after the ship had sailed out, my intelligence group from the Amphibious Ambush Squad (AAS) alerted me of the presence of some strange elements in the vessel.

“We quickly alerted our operatives at Onne Port, in collaboration with the men of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) who played a commendable role and they were found and arrested. One of them (Adewale) was bleeding profusely as a result of injury he sustained in the process while sneaking into the vessel.”

The AIG said upon interrogation of the suspects, it was discovered that the particular route they took was an easy corridor for human trafficking, drug peddling, gun running, piracy, smuggling and hostage taking. He said, “From the account of the suspects, this had been a recurring phenomena in the maritime environment as most of them claimed to have previously gone through this process to South Africa, Spain, and Canada only to be deported.

“Therefore, we will redesign the methodology of our operation by seating with the Nigerian Navy, NIS and other sister agencies to cover the maritime environment. So that whenever they want to use this corridor to commit crime, they will be arrested and prosecuted within the ambits of the law.”

About the Basic Maritime Operations Course

Undoubtedly, the success of the police operation can be traced to the BMOC held for the Marine Police Command at Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Quorra of the Naval Training Command (NAVTRAC).
Whilst it lasted, the BMOC Training Commander was Captain Livingstone Izu, and some of the maritime courses were taught by Captain Mayowa Olukoya, deputy commander of the Special Boat Services (SBS), for the 12-weeks course.

The training, which was broken down in three phases started with the ‘Orientation Phase’ at the Under Water Warfare School, which lasted for six weeks and it covered areas like basic seamanship, introduction to basic communication, Rules of the Road (ROR),International Humanitarian Law and Law of Armed conflict, chart work, search and rescue and it all culminated with a sea trip onboard NNS PROSPERITY.

The next phase was the ‘Weapon Handling’, which was handled by the Special Boat Service instructors and lasted for two weeks. The participants were introduced to AK-47 rifle, FN rifle and the Pistol.
They were also taught on weapon safety rules, marksmanship principles, basic loading and unloading drills as well as stripping and assembling of small arms. The participants were thereafter assessed.

The last phase was the ‘Riverine Phase’, and was conducted at the SBS Camp. This phase lasted for four weeks and covered craft recognition and familiarisation, boat handling skills and outboard motor maintenance, water survival skills (life jacket and Man Over Board drills), boat formations, pacing drills, Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) techniques for vessels, waterborne guard post and beaching.

THISDAY, who was at the recent graduation ceremony of the police operatives had recorded that the NAVTRAC Flag Officer Commanding, Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, had noted that the graduation was a milestone for the navy and the police. He had also said that given that the maritime domain remains a strategic asset with enormous resources and potential, they are equally cognisant that the natural benefit has been persistently channeled by a myriad of threats that have impinged on Nigeria’s economic wellbeing and national security.

He had noted that some of the major challenges in addressing these crimes have been inadequate trained manpower, procedural errors in arrest, improper evidence management and lack of diligent prosecution of the part of the security agencies, thus a holistic approach in the management of the maritime environment would therefore require a coordinated approach among the security agencies operating within the nation’s maritime domain.

Stressing that it also calls for integrated capabilities, doctrine and interoperability, which underscores the need for inter agency collaboration and training, Okojie said it was in that light that the navy was tasked to conduct the BMOC for personnel of the NPF and so, the course was aimed at ensuring that the marine police have a grasp of the necessary skills.

His assertions were also collaborated by the Commandant of the school, NNS Quorra, Commodore Francis Isaac, who said that with the knowledge and practical experience from the SBS camp, the underwater warfare school and other lectures and presentations organised, the police would expect more from them. And that was exactly what happened when the information of the stowaways came. Still basking in the knowledge received, the men were able to track and effectively arrest the suspects.