Stakeholders in the maritime industry have stated that the successes recorded by the Nigerian Navy (NN) in the fight against piracy, sea robbery and other illegalities in Nigerian waters in recent times would help in no small way to boost international trade in the country.
They maintained that the support for merchant shipping would also further international trade as it affects the shipping sector of the economy in the months ahead.
While lauding the strides the NN has made in recent times, the stakeholders who stated this at the sideline of the freight forwarders day in Lagos noted that in the past 12 months, the professional action of the navy has thwarted not less than 15 determined attacks.
They maintained that the thwarting of these attacks was actualised by what they called “the swift and decisive actions” embarked by the NN team who rose to the occasion when duty calls.
According to them, contrary to reports in the international shipping community, the NN has consistently continued to deliver on its mandate to secure the maritime environment of Nigeria by providing additional security options as requested through their framework for the private sector, the navy and the Nigerian government to protect critical infrastructure and strategic national assets, whilst ensuring all is done to promote and support the economic growth of Nigeria.
Recently, Nigeria has been in the spotlight over the number of attacks occurring within her waters or otherwise originating from Nigeria. Specifically, the number of seafarers being kidnapped, sea piracy activities and others by protesting militants has alarmed the international shipping community.
This has gotten to the extent that some shipping companies are now considering whether to send their vessels to Nigeria or not.
The stakeholders argued that this situation has a negative effect on the Nigerian economy in which the maritime trade contributes significantly through ship movements in and out of Nigeria’s territorial waters.
One of the stakeholders, Chief Adelusi Owolabi noted that information in international media and guidance released to shipping would suggest that there are few options available to secure shipping in Nigeria but the simple fact is that for many years, ships have made use of Nigerian security agencies and particularly the navy as escorts and embarked guards to fend off any attacks.
According to Owolabi, these practices have continued consistently, with notable successes by the navy to date, all despite a statement from Intertanko, and supported by BIMCO and several major Flag States, claiming the illegality of the practice following an unofficial conversation with a retiring rear admiral in late 2017, something which the navy provided no official comment on.
Owolabi who has several years of experience and exposure in maritime security averred that it may be questioned whether some of the more recent incidents may have been avoided had the shipping companies been more aware of the security options available.
“The sole use of escort vessels restricts security options due to limited escort vessel availability and the higher cost, which sometimes can be up to 10 times the cost of an embarked team.
“This situation can lead to companies deciding against additional security measures, with potentially catastrophic consequences”, he said.
On his part, a maritime lawyer, Mr. Tony Odiadi said: “despite these statements being released internationally, no one has been able to state the law that is being broken if this practice is conducted. The reason being that no law is being broken, the navy are merely delivering on their defence mandate, successfully and with approval from the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS).
“This practice is not different than seeing the Nigerian Police Force protecting a bank or the Nigerian Army providing support to the Nigerian Police within the states as task forces to maintain security.
“You have to always look at the 1999 Constitution, the Armed Forces Act 2004 as well as the particulars of the mandates of the Nigerian Navy to secure and protect the Nigerian maritime corridor 200 nautical miles from any violations. None of the enabling laws or regulations are violated.
“The point is that any security breaches upon a vessel having legitimate presence within Nigerian territorial waters falls upon the Navy to take control, likewise any prevention or pre-emptive measure necessary such as seeking naval patrol or naval guards for protection of ships.”
Odiadi who has notable experience in military law and practice argued that the circulations also suggest that if this practice is banned, unauthorised or illegal, the Nigerian Navy Commanders are either directly contravening orders or are unaware that the Nigerian Navy guards and the Nigerian Navy weapons are being released to perform these tasks.
“Both of these situations are extremely unlikely due to the professionalism consistently displayed by the Nigerian Navy over the years and despite the warning that vessels with embarked Navy teams would be detained”, he said.
He observed that since the release there has been no record of any merchant vessel being detained for embarking Nigerian Navy guards. The Nigerian Navy, in their role as the maritime security authority in the country, would certainly be aware of incidents where the navy has successfully repelled an attack, and the role that Nigerian Navy guards played in each event, yet no detentions have been seen.
The maritime lawyer noted that since the beginning of this year, the navy has increased their capacity and platforms, continued to support offshore operations, achieved constant successes against illegal refiners, detained numerous vessels for illegal activity on the nation’s waters, and has delivered on military commitments whilst supporting all maritime trade to enhance the Nigerian economy.
He maintained that with scores of attacks thwarted either by naval platforms, Nigerian Navy on private escort vessels or those embarked directly on ships, the officers and men should be commended for their efforts in doing their duty in support of the nation.