Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on the Nigerian Navy’s acquisition of 60 gunboats, to boost its war chest to tackle maritime criminalities, especially militancy, pipeline vandalism and piracy on the nation’s waterways
With over 3,000 creeks and inland waterways in Nigeria, some of which had remained unpatrolled and out of reach to the security forces, it was unavoidable that crime would foster in such areas. An example that readily comes to mind is the cartel of vandals that had taken over such creeks in Arepo, Ishawo, Awawa and Igando, in both Lagos and Ogun States. As the military forces were wiping out the vandals, they were going in deeper into the creeks and mangroves, where the navy’s patrol boats find difficult to access. Their reign of terror lasted for decades until the recent Operation Awatse, an Hausa word for ‘Scatter’ was launched.
Again, it took the intervention of the airforce air power to destroy the camps and enclaves of the vandals, who had hitherto held the area hostage. This was because the creeks were designed in such a way that was inaccessible to bigger gunboats owned by the navy. Most of the creeks can only be accessed using smaller dugout boats and canoes, hence the need for the navy to up its game.
Not to be forgotten is the various unaccessed creeks that dot the Niger Delta region, which had fostered the issue of militancy that Nigeria is presently battling to curb.
It was as a result of these challenges that the Nigerian Navy recently took delivery of 39 extra newly produced gunboats and the second indigenous Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) built locally by the Nigerian Navy (NN), to fight militancy and other maritime criminalities. Aside the boats, the navy also inaugurated 45 operational vehicles to be shared amongst commands and units of the NN, to aid operational efficiency.
The acquired maritime platforms include 30 Epenal boats, three Wave Riders, six Arrow Heads, as well as NN pride, NNS KARADUWA, a 28.9 meters SDB, fabricated and built indigenously by personnel of the navy. These 39 were to back up the former ones inaugurated earlier this year, summing it up to 60 new gunboats in the fleet of the navy to effectively deal with the scourge of oil theft, sea robbery and piracy.
Security experts said the navy would require a minimum of 40 of these classes of boats on patrol everyday in order to dominate the vast expanse of the nation’s territorial waters especially in the current emerging security challenges in the maritime domain. Though the boats are small, their small nature is what is needed to gain access to the creeks and its fast nature is another plus. They are designed to undertake such security tasks as maritime interdiction, anti-smuggling, anti-illegal bunkering and sea robbery.
The Preview of the Inauguration
In line with naval tradition, every new boat is inaugurated and dedicated before it is deployed to its Area of Responsibility (AOR). Thus, on that fateful Wednesday, all roads led to Naval Dockyard, Victoria Island, Lagos. Given the clement weather, the event was held under the clear blue skies with canopies as shade.
The event, which was anchored by the Command Information Officer of Western Naval Command, Lieutenant Commander Chinwe Umar, was kick started by the arrival of the special guest of honour, the Minister of Defence (MOD), Mansur Dan-Ali who inspected the quarter guard mounted in his honour.
Afterwards, the entourage moved to the jetty of the navy dockyard where NDL Admiral Superintendent showed the guests the processes involved in constructing the SDB. Then the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ette-Ibas made his welcome remarks before the act of dedication of the boats by the chaplain and the Imam, Lieutenant Commander NI Dakwo and Lieutenant Commander RK Rumah, respectively.
Then the MOD formally inaugurated the boats before dovetailing into his remarks. The entire guests then moved to the jetty for a brief demonstration by the boats. After that, the guests embarked on several boats for a five-minute journey across the water to Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Beecroft parade ground in Apapa for the inauguration of the 45 vehicles.
At the August occasion were the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Ambassador Danjuma Sheni; Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin; the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ette Ibas; the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Fergusson Bobai, who was the chief host for the occasion.
Also present were the Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP), Rear Admiral Adeniyi Osinowo; the FOC Naval Training Command (NAVTRAC), Rear Admiral Ifeola Mohammed; the Admiral Superintendent, Naval Dockyard Limited, Rear Admiral Adetokunbo Lateef Akintola; the Director of Information, Commodore Chris Ezekobe; Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Nigeria Air Force Logistics Command, Air Vice Marshal Sani Ahmed, who represented the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar; the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 81 Division Headquarters, Major General Isidore Edet, who represented the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant Tukur Buratai; the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 2, AIG Abdulmajid Ali, who represented the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris; Lagos Commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Mr. Tajudeen Balogun, amongst other senior officers.
The Navy’s Pride
Although other gunboats were inaugurated that same day, the focal point of the day was the NN pride, which is the 28.9 meters Seaward Defence Boat (SDB), Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) KARADUWA, which is the second indigenous boat built locally, after NNS Andoni.
Therefore, during the inauguration, it was with joy and pride that the entourage moved to the jetty to inspect the nation’s second indigenous but well improved boat. Thus, the entourage moved to jetty of the navy dockyard where NDL Admiral Superintendent showed the guests the processes involved in constructing the SDB.
Crafted with pride by the Nigerian Navy engineers and architects, it’s inspired by the River Town Class, as is the first SDB, NNS Andoni, in line with NNS Yola and NNS Brass. It was inaugurated four years after NNS Andoni was inaugurated in 2012.
Given the Cabotage Act, the NNS KARADUWA, is therefore an attempt by the NN to be self-reliant in local construction of boats. Recall that after the inauguration of NNS Andoni, the inverted hull was constructed as a single unit, after which the superstructure was built as a separate entity and was later brought together to form the boat.
Afterwards, the inverted hull was turned upright and placed on keel squares before the welding of the superstructure, construction of the tanks, piping, electrical installations and propulsion installations.
Given the successes recorded in the NDL, especially in construction of indigenous boats, the navy had earlier said it was considering opening the dockyard up for use by stakeholders in the maritime sector.
A recent interview credited to the DINFO, Commodore Chris Ezekobe and earlier published by THISDAY, indicated that given the state-of-the-art facilities of the dockyard, the capacity of the dockyard is beyond the navy itself, as there are certain facilities that are yet to be utilised by the Nigerian public.
Already, the dockyard has a galvanising plant, a foundry plant, various precision workshops and even a carpentry workshop that stakeholders can utilise.
Federal Government’s Impression
The Minister of Defence, Dan-Ali, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Ambassador Danjuma Sheni, inaugurated the boats and the vehicles at the Naval Dockyard Limited and Western Naval Command respectively.
According to him, the emerging security challenges in the country have had great consequences on the polity in the North-east and the Niger Delta region of our nation.
He said, “These challenges have continued to demand a great deal of human and material resources to surmount, which in the light of dwindling revenue would be sustainable only with generous innovations and incorporations of home grown solutions. Accordingly, the strategic vision of President Muhammadu Buhari in a spirited response to the peculiar challenges confronting the nation and the NN’s decision to look inwards by contracting local ship building venture is highly commendable.
“The fact that the Epenal boats were built by the Nay Dockyard Limited (NDL), the leading shipbuilding and repairs facility of the navy speaks volume about the technological capacity that we have here at the dockyard. The Epenal Boat Yard, Port Harcourt was contracted to construct 30 by 8.2m boats for the navy in 2015, which was delivered earlier this year. These were immediately inducted into the service and used for rigorous patrols in the Niger Delta. Their availability has helped to stem the tide of criminal activities in the area. Encouraged by the success of the venture, the contract for a further 50 was immediately awarded which has yielded the additional 30 boats being launched today and the remaining 20 will be delivered subsequently.
“As with the first wave, the boats are fitted with appropriate weapons. They also benefitted from a better antiballistic protection and other facilities being an improvement promised at the launch of their precursors. I am hopeful that the boats being launched today would further boost the ongoing patrol efforts in the various rivers and creeks of the country to the immense benefit of the nation’s maritime security.
“In the same vein, the acquisition of three Wave Riders and six Arrow Head boats through the Excess Defence Account from Sri Lanka, was also achieved at a highly competitive and cost effective price. It is anticipated that their deployment to different Forward Operating Bases (FOB) would help in the curbing the unfolding illicit activities within the territorial contiguous zone. Furthermore, it is also satisfying that in fulfillment of one of the rings of the objective Spectrum Maritime Strategy, she is increasingly employed in land based operations, which imposes a requirement capacity for land mobility.”
In his speech afterwards, the CNS, Vice Admiral Ette-Ibas said, “This occasion is momentous in that we launched 30 locally constructed boats by Epenal Group of Companies, nine Wave Rider and Arrow boats acquired from Sri Lanka, as well as the inauguration of a mix of 45 vehicles for the Nigerian Navy.
“Earlier this year, the NN was privileged to launch 30 Epenal built patrol boats at a ceremony performed by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, in Port Harcourt, on February 24, 2016.
“These boats no doubt, have boosted navy maritime operations. However, as part of the efforts to continue to achieve unchallenged dominance of our maritime environment, the navy within a space of six months has launched another 39 specially built patrol boats into her fleet.
“This number is an improvement over the 30 referred to earlier. These efforts, both then and now, represent navy’s modest contribution to enhance national security and prosperity. Of the 39 boats launched, nine were acquired from Sri Lanka and would be greatly helpful for patrol of territorial waters and the contiguous zone.
“But it’s in the 30, which were locally built that I will accord emphasis. The decision of the navy to consider to take such bold steps of building 60 boats locally from the two delivered lots and with 34 more to join shortly, could be considered as part of the resolve to look inwards in the production of our naval hardware.
“Furthermore, the mounting operational challenges in the face of progressive dwindling economy necessitated the navy to explore more cost saving options through local construction of these patrol boats. For immediate appreciation as I declared in February, the cost of production of a unit of the boat is less than half the cost of producing similar boats from overseas. This rate has been kept despite the massive erosion of Naira value between November 2015 when the production was contracted and now.
“In the launching of their forebears in Port Harcourt, when a public notification of the order for the boats being launched today was made, I had the privilege to assure that they will be inducted with improved features. I am pleased to report that this assurance was well kept as the boats retained all positive features of the previous set including being fitted with appropriate weapons for credible firepower.
“Additionally, it benefitted from the incorporation of anti-ballistic protection, giving it edge for more audacious and aggressive employment. They are also expected to present a better sea-keeping ability with a wide margin for the many corrections applied to the design concept of Lot 1, through series of stage trials in the production cycle.
“I can say we are gradually but steadily moving towards the saturation of the nation’s backwaters with patrol boats for improved security of our maritime domain. The boats will be deployed optimally by various relevant navy units. Their induction will certainly enhance the navy’s capability at carrying out her statutory roles and also assist immensely for the navy to keep the criminals at the back foot.
“In recent times, NN operations have transcended the creeks and sea areas to the hinterlands. Thus, the navy is equally engaged in land operations like most other security agencies. However, for a long time, the personnel of the NN have faced enormous challenges in land mobility as a force. These challenges became more worrisome when vehicles were needed to respond to emergencies and they were not sufficient to move the troops.
“As part of the efforts to mitigate the challenges in this regard and enhance the welfare of the NN personnel, I have had the honour to add 45 assorted vehicles to boost NN activities on land again. In the history of the NN, it is the first time such numbers of vehicles are being added to the service’s vehicular fleet at one go.
“Just as the boats, the vehicles being launched today would be deployed appropriately to various NN units, this would surely ease the transportation challenge encountered by personnel in the would be beneficiary units. It shall also enhance NN’s response capability at carrying out her statutory roles and add verve to the fight against insurgency, kidnapping, crude oil theft and other land-based vices. Besides the navy, the vehicles would also be available to support sister services and other security agencies in time of dire needs, upon request.
“We thank President Muhammadu Buhari for the grant of resources to secure these assets, as well as the Minister of Defence for his untiring advocacy for the navy. But we also solicit for further understanding, especially in the area of logistics support for the deployment and sustenance of these boats and vehicles.”
Backing of the Senate
Visibly impressed with the achievements of the navy under Ibas, the Senate Committee on Navy pledged their support for the naval forces, especially as regarding allocating more funds for the service. The Senate Committee Chairman on Navy, Senator Isa Aman-Isa, said the committee was doing everything possible to ensure the navy gets the necessary resources to tackle maritime insecurity to the fullest.
To whom much is given, much is definitely expected. Therefore, with this massive deployment, it is expected that the navy will take advantage of these additional platforms and put them to good use in curbing maritime illegalities on the nation’s waterways.