Piracy: Changing a Wrong Perception of Nigeria

Dakuku Peterside

BY Vincent Obia

When in December last year Dr. Dakuku Peterside appealed to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to, “Please, report Nigeria appropriately,” he was making a passionate comment on a country determined to change, and challenging the misrepresentation of its situation by a world information system often lost in the ambiguities of perception. The call by the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), made during a visit by the International Maritime Security Operations Team (IMSOT) from the United Kingdom, was against the backdrop of exaggerated reports on incidents on the country’s waterways. IMB, a specialised department of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) dedicated to fighting maritime crime and malpractice, was the main culprit in what looked like a campaign of disinformation against the Nigerian maritime domain.

In often complicated and confusing accounts of maritime incidents, crimes within and outside Nigeria’s territorial waters are lumped together and presented as piracy. And attempts are hardly made to appreciate Nigeria’s efforts to curtail security incidents within its maritime space.

Yet, maritime crimes are distinguished by geography. While attacks outside a country’s territorial sea are classed as piracy, those within are categorised as armed robbery. Both endanger seafarers, threaten commerce and other maritime activities, and exacerbate insecurity. Nigeria acknowledges this, and it has done a lot to scale back the maritime crimes. This, exactly, is what Dakuku always wants IMB and, indeed, the world to realise. He is pained by attempts to perceive Nigeria as the centre of piracy, despite the mounting fruits of President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to make cracking down on sea crimes a hallmark of his administration since 2015.

Dakuku reiterated his abhorrence of the wrongful perception of Nigeria’s maritime domain on Tuesday in Abuja while defending NIMASA’s 2019 budget before the Senate Committee on Marine Transport. He bemoaned the effect of such perception, which had played a major role in the slump of the Agency’s contribution into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, from N22 billion in 2017 to N16 billion in 2018.

Contrary to the perception of Nigeria as the centre of piracy in the world, Dakuku told the Senate committee, “Our own problem here is more of maritime crime and not piracy, which is committed on high seas.”

Piracy is defined in Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and Armed Robbery is defined by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) as Resolution A.1025 (26) in its 26th Assembly session.

Under Article 101 of UNCLOS, piracy comprises of any of the following acts:

“(a) Any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed – (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft; (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

“(b) Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

“(c) Any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).”

The IMO defines armed robbery in Resolution A.1025 (26) of its “Code of Practice for the Investigation of Crimes of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships” as armed robbery against ships, saying it means any of the following acts: “(1) Any illegal act of violence or detention or any act of depredation, or threat thereof, other than an act of piracy, committed for private ends and directed against a ship or against persons or property on board such a ship, within a State’s internal waters, archipelagic waters and territorial sea;

“(2) Any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described above.”

Nigeria has taken proactive steps to stop both.

Interestingly, IMB recently released its report for the first quarter of 2019 showing an increased level of safety in the Nigerian maritime domain. It said no vessel was reported hijacked in the period under review, marking the first time since the first quarter of 1994 that Nigeria would have such record. The report showed between January and March 2019 Nigeria witnessed a 36 per cent decrease in piracy incidents, compared to the same period in 2018.

IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan said Nigeria was benefitting from coordinated responses to incidents through NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. Mukundan called for sustenance of the collaborative effort.

He stated, “These latest statistics from the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre are encouraging. However, first quarter statistics should not be a basis to anticipate trends through the rest of the year, as it’s too short a period. It, nonetheless, confirms the importance of information sharing and coordinated action between the industry and response agencies. Going forward, it is critical to continue to build a more effective reporting structure to enable a strong, unified response when dealing with piracy incidents.”

Dakuku said regarding the latest IMB report that NIMASA would continue to do all within its powers and the law to reduce piracy and other maritime crimes in Nigeria’s territorial waters. He said the Federal Executive Council’s recent approval of the Deep Blue Project, an all-encompassing maritime security architecture, was a testament to the Buhari government’s resolve to tackle the menace of piracy.

According to the Director-General, “This report by IMB is not a surprise because if you consider how seriously the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government is paying attention to maritime safety and security, which led to the approval of the Deep Blue Project geared towards tackling all illegalities in the maritime sector, you would understand that these are the best times to invest in maritime in Nigeria.”

The Nigerian government aims to rid the country’s territorial waters of criminalities through the Integrated Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, also known as the Deep Blue Project. Initiated by NIMASA and operated in collaboration with the Nigerian Armed Forces, the Nigeria Police, and the Department of State Services (DSS), “The Deep Blue Project is a multipronged approach towards tackling insecurity in our territorial waters and the entire Gulf of Guinea,” Dakuku stated recently in Lagos during the graduation ceremony for participants of the C4I Intelligence System Operator Course for the Deep Blue Project.

The Deep Blue Project is a multilayered scheme comprising various complementary aspects, including the training of operational personnel, acquisition of assets, such as fast intervention vessels, surveillance aircraft, and other facilities, and establishment of a command and control centre for data collection and information sharing to facilitate the goals of targeted enforcement.

“The Deep Blue Project is geared towards building a formidable integrated surveillance and security architecture that will comprehensively combat maritime crime and criminalities in Nigeria’s waterways up to the Gulf of Guinea.”

Nigeria is strengthening its laws and investing in training, intelligence, acquisition of maritime security assets, and regional collaboration to enhance safety in its maritime domain.

The Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill, 2018, sponsored by NIMASA, has been passed by the House of Representatives. Dakuku used the opportunity of the budget defence to appeal to the Senate to give concurrence to the bill to facilitate its enactment as a law to provide a legal framework for the prosecution of maritime offences.

“We need adequate security on our waterways, the very reason why the anti- piracy bill already passed by the House of Representatives is urgently needed,” he said.

The bill incorporates the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the Suppression of Unlawful Acts at Sea (SUA) conventions of IMO into a comprehensive statute to tackle the menace of piracy and related crimes in the Nigerian maritime domain.

NIMASA, as the Designated Authority (DA) responsible for implementing IMO statutes, has adopted a Total Spectrum Maritime Security Strategy to combat insecurity on the country’s waters and in the Gulf of Guinea area. It has hinged its maritime crime combating effort on the initiative, which has four components, namely, situational awareness, response capability, law enforcement and local partnerships, and regional cooperation.

There is the Nigerian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) at Kirikiri, in Lagos, which helps to disseminate information in the Nigerian maritime domain. With this, incident reports from Masters of Ships/Skippers on piracy attacks or suspicious crafts are promptly relayed to the Nigerian Navy for immediate response. Distress messages will also be directly intercepted by the NMRCC, eliminating delay in the transmission of messages.

The Agency is working out modalities to ensure that all ship owners install Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) on their vessels. The SSAS, when triggered on board, automatically alerts the MRCC and the naval authorities of any piracy attack.

At the bilateral and multilateral levels, Nigeria is at the forefront of efforts to enhance security in the Gulf of Guinea. The country recently carried out joint maritime security patrols with Benin Republic, codenamed “Operation Prosperity”. The exercise has helped to reduce pirate attacks off both countries’ coast.

Nigeria has been participating in regional exercises with other countries’ militaries. These efforts have yielded positive results, as Gulf of Guinea member states now conduct cross-border patrols, share law-enforcement intelligence, and maintain joint coordination centres.

The US Navy component of AFRICOM has been conducting exercises, such as Obangame and Saharan Express, in line with operational agreements. NIMASA fully participated in the 2018 edition of Obangame Express held in the Gulf of Guinea region.

Last year, NIMASA conducted a joint maritime security exercise with INTERPOL, tagged “Operation 30 Days At Sea”. The operation involved the country’s security services, including the Nigeria Police and Nigerian Navy.

The country is doing a lot to ensure safety on its waters. And by the accounts of IMB, these efforts are yielding fruit, making Nigeria’s maritime domain increasingly conducive for business.

The maritime crime fighting and reporting organisations need to continuously show they are completely on the same page with Nigeria.

“We should change our focus to the modest achievements and efforts we have made in maritime security, and eschew perceptions that tend to feed the hubris of enemies of our country,” says Dakuku.

• Obia writes from Lagos.