In a bid to tackle the numerous maritime crimes, especially piracy bedeviling the Gulf of Guinea (GOG), President Muhammadu Buhari, thursday advocated for a regional collaboration.
Speaking at the International Maritime Conference (IMC) organised as part of activities to commemorate the Nigerian Navyâ€™s 62nd anniversary, the president said recent security challenges in the GOG has made it one of the most problematic maritime spaces in the world.
Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, also commended the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, for many innovative and forward-looking ideas he has brought to the leadership of the service.
He also added that the theme of the conference â€˜Enhancing an integrated maritime strategy for security in the Gulf of Guineaâ€™, was quite apt given the presence of 38 countries of the world.
Addressing the maritime issues bedeviling the GOG, he revealed that in 2016, about 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks and more than 50 per cent of global kidnappings for ransom were recorded in the region.
Quoting the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), Buhari said: â€œIn 2016, the IMB recorded 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, representing 28 per cent of worldwide attacks.
â€œThe Gulf of Guinea also accounted for more than 50 per cent of the global kidnappings for ransom with 34 seafarers kidnapped out of a total of 62 worldwide.
â€œBesides, the trafficking of arms, drugs and persons, widespread unregulated and unreported fishing activities, severe environmental damage and pollution have remained constant challenges.â€
On the need for stronger collaboration among member states, the president said countries in the GOG have since recognised that security in the region was a challenge to maritime safety and significant threat to their economic prosperity.
He said: â€œThe GOG is perhaps one of the most strategic maritime geographies in the world. On account of its proximity to the European and North American markets, the GOG has been an important route for container ships headed for Europe and America.
â€œBesides, the Gulf hosts one of the most important regions for oil and gas production and transportation.
â€œIt also contains some of the largest hydrocarbon deposits ever discovered. But in the past few years, the Gulf has experienced security challenges that have made it one of the most problematic maritime spaces in the world.
â€œFrom the rise in maritime insurance premiums for vessels coming to the Gulf of Guinea to increased freight and reduced commercial traffic to the region, it has always been clear that it is in our national and regional interests to collaborate, to tackle the problems that we confront in the maritime domain of the region.
â€œThe establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) was an important initiative in this regard.
â€œIn addition, member states of the Gulf of Guinea Commission have made individual efforts to improve the capacity and capability of their navies, and other relevant agencies to enable them perform their duties more effectively.
â€œThis has been well complemented by the establishment of Regional Centres for Maritime Security by the Regional Economic Communities, ECOWAS and ECCAS.
â€œThis effort is itself capped by the establishment of the Inter-regional Coordination Centre based in Yaounde, Cameroon.
â€œThe invaluable multifaceted collaboration of the US and the EU is worthy of mention. And these initiatives are commendable indeed.â€
In his welcome remarks, Ibas said the navy has arrested 69 vessels for various maritime crimes and succeeded in securing 13 convictions in the course of two years.
He said a commendable stride has also been made in the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) project to enhance surveillance and interdiction efforts.
He said, â€œThe twin but complimentary systems of the US Government assisted MDA project of Regional Maritime Awareness Capability facility and the Falcon Eye system have continued to be expanded, in view of their highly encouraging outputs.â€
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who was represented by the Commissioner for Special Duties, Seye Oladejo, praised the navy for the giant strides it has recorded particularly in internal security within Lagos and the fight against militancy in the Niger Delta region.
Similarly, Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi lamented the adverse effects piracy, robbery and other maritime crimes have on the countryâ€™s revenue, adding: â€œMaritime security is essential in maintaining the flow of revenue for any country.â€