Nigeria’s territorial waters have over the years remained very porous. In fact, investigations have revealed that a lot of illegal activities- piracy, oil bunkering, smuggling, human trafficking and sundry transnational crimes take place in the Nigeria’s territorial waters unhindered, posing major threats to national security and economic development.

These criminal acts often result in loss of lives, physical harm or hostage-taking of seafarers, aside significant disruptions to commerce and navigation, financial losses to shipowners and damage to the marine environment.

The International Maritime Bureau stated last year that attacks by sea bandits off the Coast of West Africa are on the increase in Nigeria.

A former Nigerian President had noted that the country loses N250billion monthly and about 400,000 barrels of oil per day to maritime crimes.

Also recently, the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara raised the alarm that the Nigeria’s territorial waters have become more porous. Specifically, he stated that Nigeria loses as much as N7trillion annually in the maritime sector due to leakages in revenue generation and insecurity in the waterways. He said that several attacks were reported off Nigeria’s coast that involved pirates stealing cargoes of crude oil and petroleum products.

The increasing level of attacks and violence in the Gulf of Guinea, the speaker noted, had given “Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region very damaging and negative image in addition to an estimated monthly loss of $1.5 billion.”

A key player in the maritime sector had also disclosed that foreigners are dominating Nigeria’s coastal shipping business, in violation of the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act (Cabotage).

The Cabotage Act stipulates that, “A vessel other than a vessel wholly owned and manned by a Nigerian citizen, built and registered in Nigeria shall not engage in the domestic coastal carriage of cargo and passengers within the coastal territorial inland waters, or any point within the waters of the exclusive economic zone of Nigeria.”

The issue again came to the fore last week, when the House of Representative Committee on Maritime Education, Safety and Administration and the NIMASA, chaired by Muhammed Umar Bago raised concerns about the nation’s porous exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and trading by foreign vessels.

Bago and his team, during an oversight visit to NIMASA, noted that the agency’s satellite image of the EEZ showed a lot of vessels or ships doing businesses whereas its records showed that it doesn’t give waivers.

Bago observed: “When you have the satellite image of the Nigeria EEZ, you have a lot of vessels or ships doing businesses.  When you come to NIMASA records it shows you don’t give waivers. If you are not giving waivers, what are the foreign companies doing on our waters? If they are illegally doing business on our waters, we should step up and arrest them and that is the primary function of NIMASA. NIMASA must step up its coastal security and guards. The agency should provide platforms to pursue these criminals out of our water.” The lawmakers therefore urged NIMASA and the Ministry of Transportation to come out clean on the issue of waivers to foreign companies.

Reacting to Bago’s observation, NIMASA DG, Dakuku Peterside explained that initiatives have been deployed to enhance security of the nation’s territorial water including the (EEZ), one of which is the presidential maritime security intervention which requires collaboration with the Nigerian Navy and Air force to enhance the patrol of the nation’s waterways.

He also said the agency is pushing for early passage of the anti-piracy bill that will criminalise maritime crimes.

The NIMASA DG further added: “We have also invested in maritime intelligence gathering in our maritime surveillance gathering and we are close in integrating the satellite surveillance system in the Navy falcon.”

Given the very crucial role the maritime sector plays in the development of the economy, experts have urged NIMASA and other the relevant authorities to be alive to their responsibilities and ensure the maritime sector attains its full potential.