Ridding Nigerian Waters of Pirates

0

Eromosele Abiodun calls on the federal government to step up efforts to rid Nigerian waters of pirates as the recent International Maritime Bureau report showing Nigeria as hotbed for pirates in the Gulf of Guinea do not speak well of the country

Last week, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released a report naming Nigeria as one of the hotspots for sea piracy. This is despite efforts by the federal government to reduce the cases of piracy and banditry in Nigeria’s territorial waters.

The IMB revealed that Nigeria leads in the cases of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in the first 9 months of 2018.

IMB in its latest quarterly report said a total of 156 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported to its Piracy Reporting Centre in the first nine months of 2018 compared to 121 for the same period in 2017.

According to the IMB, “A total of 156 incidents of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships were reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in the first nine months of 2018 compared to 121 for the same period in 2017.The 2018 figure is broken down as 107 vessels boarded, 32 attempted attacks, 13 vessels fired upon and four vessels hijacked –although no vessels were reported as hijacked in Q3 2018.This is first time since 1994when no vessel hijackings have been reported in two consecutive quarters.

“The number of crew held hostage (112) for the duration of the incident has increased in comparison to the same period in 2016 (110) and 2017 (80). The number of crew kidnappings has reduced from 49 in 2017 to 39 in 2018. It is noticeable that 37 of the 39-crew kidnapped for ransom globally, have occurred in the Gulf of Guinea region in seven separate incidents. Twenty-nine crew were kidnapped in four separate incidents off Nigeria –including 12 crew kidnapped from a bulk carrier underway 51nm SW of Bonny Island, Nigeria in September 2018.”

It added: “Statistically, the Gulf of Guinea accounts for 57 of the 156 reported incidents. While most of these incidents have been reported in and around Nigeria (41), the Nigerian Navy has actively responded and dispatched patrol boats when incidents have been reported promptly. There has also been a noticeable increase in the number of vessels boarded at Takoradi anchorage, Ghana. No new incidents have been reported off the coast of Somalia in the third quarter. With the retreating of the SW monsoons this lull may change, and vessels are encouraged to continue to comply with all BMP5 recommendations.”

The 2018 figures can be further broken down to 107 vessels boarded, 32 attempted attacks, 13 vessels fired upon and four vessels hijacked, although no vessels were reported as hijacked in the second or third quarter of 2018. This marks the first time since 1994 when no vessel hijackings have been reported in two consecutive quarters.
Despite this statistic, the number of crew members held hostage increased compared to the same period in 2017, from 80 incidents to 112 by the third quarter of 2018.

Commenting on the report, Director of IMB, Pottengal Mukundan said: “While the record low number of hijackings in the second and third quarters of 2018 is of course to be celebrated, incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery remain common. ICC urged governments to leverage the timely data available from the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre to concentrate resources in these hotspots.”

The IMB noted that 37 of the 39 crew kidnappings for ransom taking place around the world have occurred in the Gulf of Guinea region, in seven separate incidents.

The reports revealed that a total of 29 crew members were kidnapped in four separate incidents off Nigeria – including a 12-crew kidnapping from a bulk carrier off Bonny Island, Nigeria in September 2018.
“In other world regions, incidents of piracy and armed robbery are comparatively low. No new incidents were reported off the coast of Somalia in the third quarter of 2018, while two fishermen were reported kidnapped off Semporna, Malaysia in September 2018.

“Incidents other regions, including some Latin America countries, border on low-level opportunistic theft. Nevertheless, the IMB continues to encourage all masters and crew members to be aware of these risks and report all incidents to the 24-hour manned PRC, “it stated.

Stakeholders’ Worry
It is not just the IMB that is not happy with the insecurity in Nigeria’s territorial waters, at a quarterly stakeholders’ meeting organised by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in Lagos recently, an official of one of the terminal operators raised the alarm that they have witnessed seven attacks since the beginning of the year .
The official, who pleaded with the government to tackle the menace head-on, said his company had to employ the service of private security to guard its ships.
The situation is even worst in the Niger Delta axis. In March this year, 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 an 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.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had earlier this year 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: “Armed Guards Aboard Merchant Vessels in Nigeria -Legal or Illegal,” 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 had 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.
“Human 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.

“Rather, 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.”
He added: “The 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.”
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.

Whose 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 don’t know, the NIMASA only last year awarded a surveillance contract worth billions of naira, a move that was intended to check rising 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.

“Two 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, “it said in a report.
“The nature of the first incident was piracy and kidnapping; the nature of the second incident was piracy,” it noted.

Quoting the report from the IMB, the US Maritime Administration stated that “the 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.”
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 by the attacks on vessels berthed at the Lagos Ports Complex (LPC), the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) announced that it has outlined strategies to counter such attacks.
However, the Managing Director of NPA, Ms Hadeza Bala-Usman, admitted that there are challenges in the operations of the ports stressing however, that they are being looked into.

Bala-Usman who was represented by the Executive Director, Marine and Operations, Mr. Sekonte Davis, at a recent forum by the NPA, 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 nation’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 has 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, “ENL 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.”

Bala-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 recently, the Director General of the 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 was 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 contributes 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, “We 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.”

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 nation’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: “No 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.”

He said 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.