To carry out surveillance patrols and operations against piracy, smuggling of drugs and arms, as well as illegal immigration and fishing activities in the nation’s maritime domain and by extension Gulf of Guinea waters, the Nigerian Navy recently boosted its fleet with two fast patrol crafts, four inshore patrol crafts and 10 rigid hull inflatable boats. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports
That the Gulf of Guinea (GOG) region is bedeviled by maritime crimes such as piracy, sea robbery, smuggling of arms and ammunition, illegal fishing, among others, is a well known fact. In fact, the GOG is often regarded as one of the most problematic maritime spaces in the world.
According to statistics, in 2016 alone, about 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks and more than 50 per cent of global kidnappings for ransom were recored in the region. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), in its report has also stated that in 2016, the region recorded 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks in region, representing 28 per cent of worldwide attacks. The 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.
The high figure can be attributed to the increased trafficking of arms, drugs and persons, widespread unregulated and unreported fishing activities, severe environmental damage and pollution that have remained constant challenges in the region.
Thus, with all these challenges, the GOG nations, Nigeria included, have since recognised that security in the region is a challenge to maritime safety and significant threat to their economic prosperity. This is because the 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 also hosts one of the most important regions for oil and gas production and transportation and
contains some of the largest hydrocarbon deposits ever discovered.
To counter these vices, the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) was established and the member states
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. This is complemented by the establishment of Regional Centres for Maritime Security by the Regional Economic Communities, ECOWAS and ECCAS, as well as the establishment of the Inter-regional Coordination Centre based in Yaounde, Cameroon.
One of the chief drivers of safety in the maritime domain is the Nigerian Navy (NN). They have championed several national, regional and international operations like Operations FARAUTA, OBANGAME, PROSPERITY, TREASURE GUARD, EAGLE EYE II, RIVER SWEEP, OPIA TOHA, amongst several others.
It is therefore noteworthy to state that one of the successes recorded by the navy’s transformation has been anchored on the provision of extensive upgrade to the fleet. Already, as a key driver to patrolling the vast waterways, the navy had in the past inducted and injected over 350 riverine crafts, procured six long endurance platforms, with three more under construction. As at 2017, the Nigerian Navy (NN) already had 200 platforms in its fleet, but in the fight against criminalities, especially in the vast maritime domain, more is never enough.
From nine assortments of riverboats, the NN fleet has grown to over 200 platforms of various configurations and capabilities, including multi-purpose frigates, offshore patrol craft and combat helicopters, Seaward Defence Boats (SDB)
and inshore patrol boats.
Like Oliver Twist, the navy makes no bones about its desire for more patrol vessels given the vast maritime space Nigeria controls, including the backwaters.
Recently, the navy acquired two Fast Patrol Craft (FPC), four Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC) and 10 Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB). These were to boost the fleet in the fight against maritime crimes and illegalities, especially within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
However, what stood out was the FPC.
Manning the two 110 MK II FPC are Commanders Emmanuel Fingesi and Andrew Zidon, for NNS NGURU and NNS EKULU, respectively. While NGURU is a town in Yobe State, EKULU is a town in Rivers State.
Both River Town Class crafts have an overall length of 35m, with a water line length of 29.80m and an overall beam of 7.10m, maximum draft of 1.80m and midship moulded depth of 3.50m. It’s operation profile include a cruising speed of 12knots, maximum speed of 35knots. Both vessels also have a 36-man crew each and was built at the Ocea crew yard in France.
Zidon is a navigation speciality and intelligent officer, whose experience has seen him climb the ranks from that of a sub-lieutenant. The same holds true for Fingesi, little wonder they were picked, sent to France with their crew to go and understudy the vessel.
The vessels have been tasked to undertake a general coastal patrol and policing duties within the EEZ, conduct search and rescue operations, carry out surveillance patrol given that it’s equipped with surveillance, interception and boarding against offenders, protect the marine environment including vessels and their crews, fight against piracy and illegal activities such as smuggling of drugs and arms, as well as illegal immigration and illegal fishing activities.
For the 72 MK II IPC; NNS GONGOLA, NNS OSE, NNS CALABAR, and NNS SHIRORO, their mission is as a multipurpose craft designed to carry out maritime safety security missions such as surveillance and police operations, fishing surveillance, search and rescue, anti-smuggling and illegal immigration control, as well as control of vessels at sea. Characterised by an overall length of 24m with speed of 20-35knots and endurance of 600 nautical miles at 12 knots. All crafts have 14- member crew each.
Already, the two FPCs have been deployed to participate in the joint regional patrol with its counterparts from Republic of Benin and Togo. The deployment was to further solidify the presence of the navy around the GOG and to also curb activities of sea robbers and pirates attacks on key installations and merchant vessels disrupting economic activities at the West African maritime domain.
The commissioning ceremony of the newly acquired platforms happened on a certain Monda at the Nigerian Navy Dockyard, Victoria Island, Lagos. As with naval traditions, the guards first formed up before the ships’s companies did same and marched on the guard.
Dressed in their ceremonial dress, the parade kicked off at exactly 10.06am. This was after the guards had formed up earlier.
The arrival of the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok Ette-Ibas, other service chiefs was heralded by the general salute, signaling the beginning of the ceremony.
At the induction of the six Fast Patrol Crafts (FPC ), and 10 inflatable boats,
were Defence Minister Mansur Dan-Ali; Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Usoro Usoro; Inspector General of Police (IG) Ibrahim Idris; Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Isa Misau; Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on the Navy, Abdulsamad Dasuki; and Director General, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala-Usman, heads of military, paramilitary institutions in Lagos as well as captains of industries.
The ceremony witnessed the reading and handing over of Commissioning Warrant to the COs of NNS NGURU AND EKULU, Fingesi and Zidon, respectively, by the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok Ette-Ibas. In handing over NNS EKULU to Zidon, Ibas said: “You are required to implement these orders, dispatch, bringing to my notice immediately, any complaint in the command or any part of her and in particular, the welfare of the ships company given under my hand this third of September, 2018”. To this, Zidon replied in the affirmative signaling his agreement to the charge read to him. Earlier, the same process had been done for Fingesi before the warrant was handed over.
With this tradition out of the way, the ships’ companies for both vessels marched onboard their respective ships before the COs read the act of dedication. This was immediately followed by prayers from both the chaplain and Imam.
Having done that, the commissioning and unveiling of the ships went underway and this was done by the Special Guest of Honour (SGOH), Minister of Defence, Masur Dan Alli. The COs then hoisted their ensign and broke the mast head pennant, another navy tradition.
Narrowing Capability Gaps
In his address, the CNS said the latest additions have increased the navy’s platforms acquisition in the last two years to over 200, adding that the new acquisition will narrow the capability gaps in enhancing security of the nation’s maritime expanse.
He said: “Their commissioning and induction into service is therefore another operational milestone for the NN as they will complement existing Maritime Domain Awareness Capability in the face of its inherent need for a potent interdiction capability. I must however be quick to observe that, despite this commendable stride, we have barely scratched the outstanding deficit in the NN fleet. Capacity building therefore is a running priority of the NN. The NN continues to apply its double pronged approach of platform sourcing from both foreign shipyards and local manufacturing.
“Domestically, local boat building associates like messrs Epenal Boat Builders and John Holt Plc which have accounted for the delivery of over 200 boats in the past, continue to be patronised. The NN dockyard remains productively engaged as it is on course for the delivery of a third straight SDB, now a 42 meter boat. Internationally, the construction of the 20 additional RHIBS with Messrs Suncraft has reached an advanced stage, with the recent second milestone inspection reporting their possible delivery on schedule and within the next few months.
“Furthermore, efforts are ongoing towards acquiring more fast patrol vessels for littoral waters up to the EEZ, while the construction of a hydrographic vessel and landing ship would further reinforce the NN’s regional maritime dominance. They will help to make life more difficult for the criminals in our maritime space. Their coming is also deemed quite timely as it would widen the nation’s options to make a robust contribution to multinational collaboration of countries of ECOWAS ‘ Multinational Maritime Coordination Zone E, comprising Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Niger. Only last week, these countries signed to a combined operation platform to suppress piracy, hijacking and hostage taking, including IUUF and other abuses of our waters. These boats and others could find for themselves, critical roles in this regard.”
A Promise Kept
Inaugurating the platforms, Dan-Ali said it was a promise kept by the Federal Government. He noted that the nation was challenged by multi-faceted threats from both continental and maritime fronts with grave manifestations and increasing threats to maritime security, adding that crimes such as piracy, sea robbery and attack on strategic oil installations have complicated the nation’s maritime security environment and threatened with dire consequences, the overall wellbeing of the nation.
He said: “For a littoral state with huge dependence on her offshore resources, maritime security is vital to the nation’s well-being. Against this background of threats the entire nation would invariably be at risky situation if we do not insist on a motivated and virile navy like ours. The induction of the platforms is in line with the current administration’s promise to keep our nation safe.
“This commissioning ceremony is yet another demonstration of this administration’s resolve of protecting the nation’s maritime domain through the provision of appropriate military platforms and operating equipment.
The procurement of these vessels by the Ministry of Defence again demonstrates this administration’s unwavering commitment and willingness towards strengthening the navy through provision of modern operating equipment and infrastructure.”