Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy, yesterday in Abuja, disclosed their readiness to tackle the security challenges bedeviling Nigeria’s seaways.
This is even, as the NSC’s Executive Secretary, Mr. Hassan Bello has raised the alarm over the spate of attacks on Nigeria’s waterways, disclosing that vessels plying the country’s waters had been targeted 88 times in one year by pirates.
Bello, who spoke during a courtesy visit to the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral, Ibok Ibas, expressed the need for the Navy to provide a “platform to be placed strategically offshore and guards transferred to each vessel in and then dropped off out such that there is always armed naval security presence from about 80 nautical miles off Bonny fairway bouy, up to Onne” in Rivers State.
The executive secretary, while lamenting the challenges confronting the maritime sector, revealed that the adaptive nature of the security threats contributes immensely to the poor competitiveness of the nation’s ports, thereby impeding trade and affecting the nation’s gross domestic product.
“We have received various complaints from the shipping companies who have been forced to provide their own security to escort their vessels to port (especially at the eastern ports). In spite of their efforts, between 2017 and 2018, there have been 88 attacks in Niger Delta.” “For instance, 2016 to 2018, there were 10,673 vessels’ calls at the ports with gross registered tonnage of over 329 million. However, one of major challenges in the maritime sector is security,” he said.
Bello added that, the cost of providing their own security is passed on to the consignee, contributing to the high cost of the product in the market.
He stated that due to the high level of maritime security incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, “the War Risk surcharge is imposed on Nigeria, adding that this impacts on freight charged on Nigeria-bound cargo.
“In addition to the various measures being put in place by the Navy and other relevant agencies, there is need for Navy to support the passage of Anti-piracy Bill into law.
“This will replace the security escort service which SAN members and other shipping companies are currently running. There may be need to authorise the shipping lines that trade in Nigeria’s territorial waters to have armed guards on board their vessels to deter attempts on their vessels as suggested by shipping lines,” he said.
Responding, the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok Ibas, said: “I am happy the Executive Secretary of Shippers Council has embraced the responsibilities of the Council and also highlighted some of the challenges that Nigeria is having presently and what efforts have been made to mitigate against these challenges.”
“I also want to remind us of the Nigerian Navy mandate to the provision of maritime security which of course compliment the efforts of the Council as a regulator in shipping activities, and therefore, want to re-emphasise the fact that the Nigerian Navy remains committed to improving security in the maritime expanse.
“Of course, as we speak, in 2018, we arrested 40 vessels and have in our custody over 150 persons which have been handed over to the various prosecuting agencies. For last year alone and this year, all together we have over 130 vessels that were seized or arrested for complexity or maritime crimes,” the Naval chief said.
According to him, “the Nigerian Navy has a trinity approach in containing maritime security, surveillance, response and enforcement. I want to state here that our surveillance capability is being enhanced daily, with the number of ships and the maritime domain awareness infrastructure that the Navy has acquired in the recent past. Iit is very easy for the Nigerian Navy to see what is happening in our maritime space.”
Ibas added that the Navy is also building capacity to respond appropriately to such challenges, noting that one area that has been of serious concern was that of enforcement which is also tied to the legal framework and the harmonised standard operating procedures drawn up to assist this aspect.