Eromosele Abiodun highlights the recent attacks on ships berthing at the Lagos Ports Complex and calls on government agencies responsible for tackling the ugly menace to sit up
At the quarterly stakeholders meeting organised by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in Lagos last week, an official of one of the terminal operators raised the alarm that they have witnessed seven attacks in the last one month.
The official, who pleaded with the government to tackle the menace head-on, said the company had to employ the service of private security to guard its ships.
The situation is even worst in the Niger Delta axis. Last month, a terminal operator had complained to official of the NPA at a similar forum that his company was going out of business following increased attacks on vessels calling at his terminal.
The official gave a griping example of how one of its ships was attacked, and the captain and the crew locked themselves in the engine room.
According to him, after the attackers had left the scene, the ship drifted and collided with an oil tanker vessel, causing irreparable damage to the ship.
Also last week, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, called on stakeholders in the maritime sector to develop a strategy to deal with the challenges within the permissible scope of security agencies to improve on maritime security.
The minister made the call in a presentation tagged, â€œArmed Guards Aboard Merchant Vessels in Nigeria -Legal or Illegal,â€ at the 3th Edition of Lagos International Maritime Week in Lagos.
Malami who was represented by the Special Assistant to the President on Financial Crimes, Mr. Abiodun Aikomo said maritime security has become an important requirement for merchants’ vessels over the last decade due to the increasing threats from pirates across the world.
He stressed that the issue of maritime security in the Nigerian territorial waters should be taken seriously.
According to him, â€œHuman beings have the responsible for self-preservation of their life and limbs and by extension, private properties and investments. As to the legality and illegality of armed guards on merchant vessels in Nigeria, the debate should no longer be focused on whether armed guards should be employed.
â€œRather, how they can effectively, legally and safely be engaged with emphasis on accreditation and accountability. In this regard, the United Kingdom and Norway have provided regulations on the use of private guards on-board.â€
He added: â€œThe International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has also announced its change of stance on armed guards. Even though Nigerian- flagged vessels cannot make use of armed private guards as the law stands today. The reality is that there must be a dynamic strategy of dealing with security challenges facing merchant vessels in Nigerian waters.â€
He said that it could be necessary to amend the relevant laws in long term, adding that there was need for stakeholders to develop a strategy within the scope of power of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in collaboration with other sister agencies.
Recently, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released a report naming Nigeria as one of the hotspots for sea piracy.
The IMB in the report said: â€œOf the 27 seafarers kidnapped worldwide for ransom between January and March 2017, 63 per cent were in the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria is the main kidnap hotspot with 17 crew taken in three separate incidents, up from 14 in the same period in 2016.
â€œAll three vessels â€“ a general cargo ship, a tanker and a bulk carrier were attacked while underway 30-60 nautical miles off the Bayelsa coast. Three more ships were fired upon at up to 110 nautical miles from land, and many other attacks are believed to go unreported.â€
Specifically, Director of IMB, Pottengal Mukundan, said: â€œThe Gulf of Guinea is a major area of concern, consistently dangerous for seafarers, and signs of kidnappings increasing. IMB has worked closely with the response agencies in the region including the Nigerian Navy, which has provided valuable support, but more needs to be done to crack down on the areaâ€™s armed gangs. We urge vessels to report all incidents so that the true level of piracy activity can be assessed.â€
IMB said guns were used in 18 of the incidents and vessels were underway in 17 of the 20 reported attacks.
IMB further stated that 39 of the 49 crew members kidnapped globally occurred off Nigerian waters in seven separate incidents. Other crew kidnappings in 2017 have been reported 60 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria.
â€œIn total, 92 vessels were boarded, 13 were fired upon, there were 11 attempted attacks and five vessels were hijacked in the first nine months of 2017, â€œit stated.
The flagship global report noted that, while piracy rates were down compared to the same period in 2016, there is continuing concern over attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and in South East Asia.
Since the report was released, a number of attacks have been recorded showing that government agencies responsible for the monitoring and foiling of attacks are clearly failing in their responsibility.
Put simply, Section 22 (P) of the NIMASA Act provides opportunity for the agency to provide maritime security. The obvious question then will be why the agency is not doing what is necessary to put an end to piracy in Nigerian waters. For those who donâ€™t know, the NIMASA only last year awarded a surveillance contract worth billions of naira, a move that was intended to check raising cases of piracy and other vices in Nigerian waters. This has not happened and no one seems to care. Late last year, the United States of America, through its Maritime Administration, warned ships to be wary when approaching Nigerian waters.
â€œTwo incidents have been reported in the Gulf of Guinea in the past six days. The first reportedly occurred south of Port Harcourt, Nigeria at 0600 GMT on October 21, 2017. The second reportedly occurred in the vicinity of 03-35.50N 006-49.20E at 1905 GMT on October 25, 2017; both incidents have been confirmed, â€œit said in a report.
â€œThe nature of the first incident was piracy and kidnapping; the nature of the second incident was piracy, â€it noted.
Quoting the latest quarterly report from the IMB, the US Maritime Administration stated that â€œthe latest quarterly report from the International Maritime Bureau notes that a total of 20 reports of attacks against all vessel types were received from Nigeria, 16 of which occurred off the coast of Brass, Bonny and Bayelsa. In general, all waters in and off Nigeria remain risky, despite intervention in some cases by the Nigerian Navy. We advise vessels to be vigilant, â€œit concluded.
The US advisory report to ship masters and owners further warned that ship transiting Nigerian waters to be cautious and seek further information, even as it stated that the alert subsists until November 2, 2017.
NPA Takes Action
Worried about the attacks on vessels berthed at the Lagos Ports Complex (LPC), the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority announced that it has outlined strategies to counter such attacks.
The Managing Director of the NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman who disclosed this at a quarterly stakeholders meeting in Lagos, admitted that there are challenges in the operations of the ports stressing however, that they are being looked into.
Usman who was represented by the Executive Director, Marine and Operations, Mr. Sekonte Davis said by the time some of the strategies are put in place, the NPA would be able to point fingers at stakeholders perceived to be responsible for such attacks.
This is just as stakeholders accused foreign shipping companies operating in Nigeria of contravening federal government directive on holding bays for their empty containers.
They accused the foreign shipping lines of deliberately not having holding bays for their empty containers in order to defraud the nationâ€™s economy.
Davis disclosed that more patrol boats will be purchased to enhance port waterfront patrols.
The NPA boss however advised the management of ENL terminal, one of the operators that have been attacked seven time I the last one month, to look into their internal system adding that there could be sabotage from within.
According to him, â€œENL should look within and see if there is sabotage because the mode of these attacks suggests that there is an insider that gives out information to these criminals. ENL should also increase its operational vehicle patrols as this could help to detect and forestall attacks at the berths. Presently we are not pointing fingers, we are discussing together, we are looking at the operations, and we are suspecting that there could be sabotage inside some of these terminals.â€
Usman explained that NPA has also commenced discussions with the port Police Command with a view to strengthening waterfront security at the ports.
Work in Progress
Responding to quarries about the security situation in Nigerian waters ever the weekend, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside stated that security in the Nigerian Maritime domain is a work in progress that requires the commitment of all stakeholders to ensure optimum safety of all investments in the sector.
Peterside stated that the agency is taking the lead on the issue of maritime safety in the entire West and Central African sub-region noting that safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea has a direct impact on the Nigerian economy.
The NIMASA boss noted that there are a lot of factors that contribute to the cost of products coming into the country through the seas, which makes it very important to tackle insecurity in the waterways.
According to him, â€œWe must ensure the security of the Gulf of Guinea because Nigeria is not isolated from whatever happens in the region which may lead to negative economic impact, or increase in the cost of insurance or war premium insurance and ultimately lead to high cost of goods and services which will be borne by the consumer of the goods and services.â€
While noting that 65 per cent of cargo heading to the region ends up in Nigeria, Peterside who is also the current chairman of the Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA), said that securing the nationâ€™s territorial waters is a work in progress that requires the commitment of all stakeholders and neighbouring countries, noting that the management of NIMASA has recognised this fact and is implementing international regulatory instruments in collaboration with various countries in the region to checkmate criminal activities.
In his words, â€œNo maritime crime occurs within a jurisdiction alone. Very often the trend is that maritime crime starts from one jurisdiction and ends in another. The only way we can tackle maritime crime is all of us working together and there have been several regional initiatives in that respect to tackle maritime crime. Apart from the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy, you have the Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy, you have the Gulf of Guinea Commission dealing with the same thing there are several sub-regional and regional initiatives to tackle maritime insecurity so I see a lot of potentials in regional collaboration and integration.â€
He said that on the home front the Agencies of the government especially in the Transport sector has seen collaboration as the way to go and that this has occasioned the renewal of the MoU between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy as well as partnership with other sister parastals.
Peterside also noted that the Agencyâ€™s goal in the implementation of the International Ships and Ports Facility Security (ISPS) Code is 100% implementation level stating that the Agency is still not resting on its laurels after achieving over 90% implementation level within a short period of being appointed the Designated Authority of the implementation of the code.
Meanwhile, Nigeria will spend $186m to combat piracy in a bid to safeguard its waters and vessels moving in and out of the country.
Transport minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi revealed this in a speech at Nor-Shippingâ€™s inaugural Africa Podium in Oslo, Norway recently. The Fund is meant to acquire three new ready-for-war ships, three aircrafts, 12 vessels and 20 amphibious vehicles to combat the menace of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
Amaechi allayed potential investorsâ€™ fears of growing security concerns in Nigeriaâ€™s seaway amid the rise in attacks by pirates.
He revealed that over the next six months, the Nigerian government would give additional training to its navy, while providing technical and further support to patrol vessels in the region.
â€œRest assured, in six months you will no longer be harassed in our waters,â€ he told delegates. Amaechi said Piracy is not the only issue currently impacting the progress of the maritime sector in Nigeria.
While admitting that eradicating this growing issue was the main priority, Amaechi was keen to point out that Nigeria was also making significant strides in its bid to improve its creaking transport infrastructure.
â€œAll you hear about is efforts to stamp out corruption, but we are working extremely hard to develop transport infrastructure,â€ he added.
Whether this be roads or railways, the development of ports, the dredging of inland waterways and coastal regions, he said there was huge investment and resources earmarked for projects now and in the future.