The Navy Rises to the Challenge

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent Exercise Eagle Eye II at the Bonny and Brass waters afforded the Nigerian Navy the opportunity to assess its operational readiness in conducting maritime policing against piracy and other illegalities

It was at the waters between Bonny and Brass code named ‘Area Alpha Juliet’ about 30 nautical miles offshore that the pirates struck and hijacked a merchant vessel, taking the crew hostage. The stillness of the waters was broken by the radio for help by the crew of Merchant Vessel Akpororo to Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Unity.

When alerted, the Special Boats Services (SBS) of the Nigerian Navy were quickly deployed to go to the rescue of the merchant vessel. They were lowered on their speed boat and they quickly sped to the distressed ship despite the waves.

Given that it was an opposed boarding because there were hijackers on board, the mother vessel, NNS UNITY commanded by the Commanding Officer, Captain Abolade Ogunleye engaged the pirates in dialogue but they rebuffed his moves. It was when they refused all entreaties that the SBS decided to forcefully board the hijacked vessel.

At about 6.56a.m., after the 30mm gun was fired as a warning shot and they still refused to budge, the captain sent operatives of the SBS to forcefully board the opposing vessel.

The exercise finished at about 8a.m. and had five pirates shot dead, while two of them were arrested. The SBS team freed 16 of the hostages on board and recovered five weapons.

Although the above stated scenario was a simulated exercise onboard NNS UNITY at the just concluded Exercise Eagle Eye II, it was done to assess the navy’s performance when it comes to distress call at sea, as well as to afford the navy the opportunity to assess their operational readiness as well as gauge their response time in responding to real life situations.

The simulation was one of the high moments of the three-day sea exercise nicknamed Eagle Eye II. The operation involved the deployment of several capital ships, naval helicopters and patrol boats as part of the Chief of the Naval Staff sea inspection exercise.

Meanwhile, observers were watching to note the time frame and response time of the operatives of the SBS onboard NNS Unity. Their observations will be detailed as scores, which is one of the objectives of the CNS sea inspection.

About Exercise Eagle Eye II

For the exercise, it was a massive deployment of both ships and aerial power of the navy, showing the readiness to improve on its combat position within the limits of available resources and to combat myriads of criminalities and illegalities on the nation’s maritime domain

Although the Nigerian Navy is constitutionally tasked with the protection of our maritime assets, many challenges hamper its fight against criminality in the nation’s waters.

Thus, it was in furtherance to the need to rid the nation of maritime illegalities that the operation ‘Exercise Eagle Eye II’, a sea exercise aimed at maintaining professionalism and improving personnel capability, was born in line with the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok Ette Ibas, zero tolerance for maritime illegalities on the nation’s waterways.

According to the preliminary information released by the Naval Director of Information, Captain Suleiman Dahun, the objective was to assess the readiness and operational state of the NN Fleet and the capability of operation commands in the conduct of riverine and choke point operations.

He said the exercise was to demonstrate to the public NN’s operational engagements and other efforts to address contemporary challenges within the maritime environment, as well as creating an enabling environment for sustenance of the desired level of hydrocarbon production, safety of shipping and other economic activities in the Niger Delta area and the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) in support of national development.

He added that it was expected that at the end of the exercise, investors’ confidence on the security in the Nigerian maritime environment will be strengthened.

A formidable fleet at sea

For a show of force, it was an impressive fleet deployment of both ships and aerial power of the Nigerian Navy to sea. The entire fleet at sea was a record of 13 ships, two helicopters and 80 boats.

According to the Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP) and Officer Conducting the Exercise (OCE), Rear Admiral Bobai, “We have a total of 13 ships, two helicopters and 80 boats for this exercise. The boats were deployed for riverine operations to take care of issues of pipeline vandalism, illegal refineries in the creeks and other criminalities.

“This exercise started two days before with the riverine operations and in the next three days, specialised boats performed certain simulations.”

The deployed ships were broken into task groups under Task Group (TG) 17.2. For the TG 17.2.1, ships deployed were NNS OHUE, NNS BARAMA, NNS KARADUWA, NNS OKPOKWU, NNS BADAGRY and NNS EKUN.

While TG 17.2.2 had NNS OLOGBO, NNS UNITY, NNS OKPABANA and NNS KYANWA,

TG 17.2.3 had NNS NWAMBA, NNS OBULA, NNS ZARIA, NNS DORINA and NNS SAGBAMA, just as the TG 17.2.4 had the Naval Flying Unit (NFU) with two helicopters providing aerial coverage.

For the TG 17.2.5, it comprised the SBS squad while the TG 17.2.6 had NNS JUBILEE supervise 20 Inshore patrol crafts (IPC), which are small apenal boats that are often deployed from ships to other ships as first buffer platforms.

Also on the TG 17.2.7 was the NNS PATHFINDER under which 20 IPCs were also deployed. Additionally, the TG 17.2.8 had NNS SOROH under which another 20 IPCS were deployed as well as TG 17.2.9 with

NNS BEECROFT having another 20 IPCS under it.

The flag off

At the flag off ceremony which was held at the Onne Jetty in Rivers State, the arrival of the guest of honour, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok Ette Ibas, signaled the beginning of the exercise.

Ibas who was received by the Chief of Logistics, Rear Admiral Joseph Oluwole and the Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP), Rear Admiral Ferguson Bobai, quickly went on to address his men before receiving the flag off ensign and later proceeded to shoot the dummy gun used to signal the take off of Exercise Eagle Eye II.

In his speech, the CNS, Vice Admiral Ibas, said the exercise was designed to assess the operational readiness of the navy to conduct maritime policing including anti-piracy and riverine operations.

He said the exercise was a conscious effort to consolidate on the gains recorded during last year’s (2016), adding that the navy incorporated elements from sister services and would collaborate with other security agencies in intelligence sharing.

For the three days the assets were on the high seas, Ibas said they would carry out various simulations in line with prevalent threats in the maritime environment as well as patrol the waterways up to the end of the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The CNS explained that the operational capability and capacity of the NN had been challenged by these festering insecurity within and around the nation’s maritime domain, adding that both kinetic and non-kinetic measures have been adopted to be ahead of the miscreants.

He said: “This is with a view to promoting interagency cooperation and collaboration for the enhancement of maritime security in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) at large. It has been stated in several fora that Nigeria has a high dependence on the maritime environment for economic survival.

“Shipping activities, exploitation and exploration of maritime resources as well as use of port facilities have consistently been the main source of the revenue that drives the nation’s budget and would be maintaining their significance into the distant future given their indispensability for the nation’s economy.

“The implication here is therefore not far-fetched as the nation’s maritime environment is evidently strategic to our national survival and the prosperity of the citizens.

“The immense potential of the area are however, unfortunately undermined by potent threats in compounding degree and proportion. These threats manifest into diverse natures which are accompanied by devastating effects in plundering revenue losses, ecological damage, environmental degradation, erosion of confidence of stakeholders, malicious damage and sabotage of maritime infrastructure and their profound implication in the incubating role for the many security breaches on land.

“There are vices such as piracy, illegal refinery, sea robbery, crude oil theft, sabotage attack on national oil and gas infrastructure both ashore and onshore, illegal unregulated and unreported fishing (IUUF) as well as general foreboding sense of insecurity and economic deprivation in the maritime domain.

“In the ensuing situation, the operational capability and capacity of the navy has been challenged by these festering insecurity within and around the nation’s maritime domain.

“In order to maintain its traction and stay ahead of the miscreants, the service has utilised both kinetic non-kinetic means to checkmate their ignoble activities.

“The NN’s actions in the past few years to neutralise the threats include activating a number of activities such as Operation Tsare Teku, Choke Point Management and Control Regime with the deployment of House Boats (HB’s), reorganisation of capital ships deployment, exploitation of STUFT concept, additional deployment of over 100 riverine boats, IPCs and MDA facilities.

“Through a tailored information operation, the NN has also mounted a strong advocacy for community sensitisation to dissuade and reorient the locals from further involvement in criminal tendencies.

“In recent months, the NN’s responses have significantly tackled the negative trend of maritime insecurity and substantially degraded the evil networks of these criminal perpetrators.

“Notwithstanding the achieved success, the potential for reversal of the gains exists as the militants and the economic saboteurs continue to multiply to pose palpable threats of attacks on Oil and Gas Infrastructure (OGIs), complicit in Crude Oil Theft (COT) and IUUF, among others.”

Continuing, Ibas said the operation approach to combating the threats would continue to require proactive surveillance and profiling of criminal intentions.

He said premium must be placed on innovative synergy with relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) as well as committed application of “all factors of potency at our disposal to decisively address the insecurity.”

Charging his lieutenants to stick to planned maintenance systems of vessels, Ibas emphasised that great progress has been made at fleet renewal, training and retraining, logistics provisioning and personnel administration.

He said: “It’s imperative to establish the same tempo of activities in operational exercises, as a sure way to continually sharpen and gauge material proficiency at tackling our tasks.

“Exercise Eagle Eye II is precisely in accord with this given that it seeks to consolidate on our professional capability in countering simulated scenarios, among others.

“It is also well known that no one service can achieve the desired destination in operation alone. Thus, the inclusion of elements of the Nigerian Army (NA) and Nigerian Air Force (NAF) would further consolidate on our ability to operate effectively as one unified force with a common national security objective.

“It is pertinent to state that lessons learnt during revolutions, exercises and drills are meant to avoid future pitfalls and improve on efficiency.”

Earlier, the Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP) and Officer Conducting the Exercise (OCE), Rear Admiral Bobai, who elucidated on the core objectives of the exercise said the exercise was being held between Bonny and Brass waters as a result of threat analysis.

He said: “We had a similar exercise last year and at the end of the day, we were able to identify some lapses and so we decided to hold exercise Eagle Eye II to consolidate on the gains recorded last year (2016) and correct the gaps.

“Following the trend of events in the maritime domain, it is evident that between the waters of Bonny and Brass, there have been a lot of reportage on issues of attack on shipping, kidnap of sailors and other maritime criminalities.

“In a simple threat analysis, we decided to concentrate forces in the areas that have been identified as flash points. Brass to Bonny axis with the abundant oil and gas infrastructure and high traffic of vessels are flash points. That is why we are conducting this exercise in this axis.

“We have tried within the year in terms of fleet recapitalisation and renewal so that we would bring together the armada of vessels we have in the navy to conduct this exercise in so many scenarios ranging from protecting FPSOs, flushing out miscreants that have hijacked FPSOs around Brass, the issue of illegal fishing, kidnapping, ships attack and so on. We would play out all these scenarios.

Life at sea

With the CNS, several rear admirals, Commodores and captains onboard, it would be safe to say that the Naval headquarters relocated to sea for the period of the exercise.

At the flag off were the Chief of Logistics, Rear Admiral Joseph Oluwole; Flag Officers Commanding (FOCs) Western, Eastern Central and Naval Training Commands, Rear Admirals Sylvanus Abbah, Victor Adedipe, Abubakar AlHassan and Obi Ofodile, respectively.

Meanwhile, the entire trip was filled with exercises and one of the main exercises at sea was the Gunnex and having maintained the necessary formation, safety measures were taken before the firing took place.

For the exercise, the gun, the 50mm gun was used and upon inquiry, it was discovered that the purpose of the exercise was to test the efficiency of the weaponry, to send a signal that the navy does not only bark but bite as well and then as a means of training for the men, seeing that it boosts their efficiency and capacity.

Other exercises conducted at sea included communication exercises, man overboard, fire drill, boarding exercises and ship maneuvers amongst others.

The post assessment

At the end of the exercise, it could safely be said that it will help the naval personnel to be better positioned in tackling crude oil theft and anti illegal bunkering operations, anti kidnapping and anti hostage taking operations, anti illegal fishing and anti marine pollution as well as maritime safety and administration operations.

On his candid assessment of the performance of the personnel and fleet used in the exercise, the CTOP expressed optimism that the navy is making progress. Adjudging the exercise as successful, he said the patrol of the nation’s maritime domain, especially the backwaters would not falter.

Given the huge amount of money expended on the exercise, it’s however expected of the navy to go back to the drawing board, having seen its strong points and weakness of personnel and platforms and then build on becoming a stronger force capable of maintaining constant presence at sea and eliminating maritime illegalities to the barest minimum.

This is because the exercise afforded the navy the opportunity to assess logistics onboard ships, Nigerian Navy air aspect onboard ships, as well as assess the participating capabilities of the entire fleet.