Nigeria’s Waters as Haven for Pirates

Pirates Attack

The recent admission by the former Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, that the security situation in the maritime sector has become bad and last Monday’s Q2 report by the International Maritime Bureau naming Nigeria as a hotbed of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, leaves much to be desired, writes Eromosele Abiodun

As stakeholders in the nation’s maritime industry await the deployment of the $195 million maritime security equipments approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, a not very cheery news broke last Monday about the increasing pirates attacks on Nigeria’s territorial waters. Put simply, Nigeria was again rated number one in pirates attack in the Gulf of Guinea by the International Maritime bureau (IMB).

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is a specialised department of the International Chamber of Commerce. The IMB’s responsibilities lie in fighting crimes related to maritime trade and transportation, particularly piracy and commercial fraud, and in protecting the crews of ocean-going vessels.

IMB in its second quarter report released recently said Nigeria led the table of pirate attacks with 21 recorded incidents between January and June, as against 31 for the period of 2018, thereby beating Indonesia, which recorded 11 attacks, Venezuela 6 attacks and Peru with 4 attacks in six months. The IMB is part of ICC Commercial Crime Services whose other divisions include The Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau, The Financial Investigation Bureau.

According to the report, Gulf of Guinea saw 73 per cent of all kidnappings at sea, and 92 per cent of hostage takings. Pirates kidnapped 27 crewmembers in the first half of 2019 and 25 in the same period in 2018.

Also, two chemical tankers were hijacked, as well as a tug that was then used in another attack. Of the nine vessels fired upon, eight were off the coast of Nigeria. These attacks took place on average 65 nautical miles off the coast.

According to the report, the four locations contributed 55 per cent to the total 77 attacks reported in the period as against 75 per cent of 106 attacks reported in 2018.

IMB said pirates and sea robbers are often well armed, violent and have attacked, hijacked, robbed ships, kidnapped crew along far from the coasts, rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters.

While six country namely Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Venezuela  featured on that pirate attack chart in 2018, Nigeria and three other countries with Peru coming in as a new entrant on the chart.

It added that all kind of weapons like guns, knives and other dangerous material were deployed to carry out attacks on vessels, a development that led to some seafarers being injured and kidnapped.

The report read in part, “In the past, incidents reported up to about 170 Nautical Miles from the coast. In many past incidents pirates hijacked the vessels for several days and ransacked the vessels and stole part of the cargo usually gas oil.

“A number of crewmembers were also injured and kidnapped in these incidents. Generally, all waters in and off Nigeria remain risky. Vessels are advised to be vigilant as many incidents may have gone unreported. Incident continues to rise substantially especially kidnapping of crews for ransom. Vessels are advised to take additional measures in the high risk waters. 

“Although, there was a reduction in the number of attacks in the African region, Nigeria still led the continent all through 2018 and first half of this year. In first six months of 2018, 39 bulk carriers were attacked as against 20 in 2019. For container vessels 9 vessels were attacked in 2019 while 6 attacks were reported in 2018 as against crude oil tanker that reported 9 in 2018 and 12 in 2019.

“For Chemical tankers and offshore tug vessels, 30 and 3 vessels were reported in 2019 while 22 and 2 attacks were reported in 2019. Vessels carrying Liquefied Natural Gas(LNG) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) had no reported cases in 2018, but had one of such vessels attacked in 2019.”

Waiting Game

This year’s report though with a slight improvement on the IMB 2018 report, which named Nigeria as one of the hotspots for sea piracy, is an indictment on claims by those responsible for fighting the menace.

Late 2017, 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 IMB report, 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, “it concluded.

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.

For those who don’t know, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is primarily responsible for the security of vessels calling on Nigeria waters. Specifically, 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.

To be fair, the agency has in recent times made spirited effort to rid Nigerian waters of pirates. However their effort seems to be failing. Last year, NIMASA 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. That is not all. In October 2017, the federal government awarded a contract on the security of the nation’s waterways to an Isreali security firm at the cost of $186 million. Former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, disclosed at the World Maritime Day held in Lagos.

Amaechi said the three-year contract would also see the firm train the Nigerian on water security.

He said the intervention will save huge security cost for the likes of Mearsk line shipping firm that spends between $15 million and $18 million annually on escorts.

Amaechi said: “Security is a major challenge globally especially in the Gulf of Guinea. There have been major concerns and developments to address the issues of Maritime security along the Gulf of Guinea.

“Various initiatives, actions, programmes and centres/organisation have been developed and established to counter this insecurity. This administration has seen the need for all relevant maritime agencies to synergise to improve efficiency in our ports.

Fighting Piracy

Concerned by stakeholders worry over pirates attacks despite claims by government of efforts being made to solve the problem, Amaechi, in May this year, told stakeholders that government has began the deployment of the $195 million security equipment. He said the deployment of specialised security tools and manpower on the Nigerian maritime domain for safe and secure waters will begin properly in June this year and be completed by first quarter of 2020.

The $195m three-year security contract to the Israeli firm, HLSI Security Systems and Technologies, which was initially awarded in 2017, was cancelled in January, 2018, over internal security concerns. However, the contract, restored in August, entails the acquisition and deployment of helicopters, airplanes, three big battle-ready ships, 12 vessels and 20 amphibious cars to the nation’s waters to stem the insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea.

Addressing stakeholders in Lagos on the journey so far, Amaechi admitted that the security situation in the maritime sector had become very bad and that Buhari was aware of it. “Part of the problem is that most of the vessels we have can’t go through the creeks because of how shallow the water is. What we are buying can go through the creeks. We have shown the stakeholders and deployment will start in June this year, ”he assured.

Speaking further, Amaechi said, “The impact of that deployment we cannot explain because not all the equipment is in place, but we will start in June to see how we can stop these criminals from converting our waters into a theatre of war. We think that between June and first quarter of 2020, we would have completed deployment, then you can hold us responsible for any crime that takes place in the waters.

“At that point we would have finished training of our personnel, led by the Nigerian Navy (NN) because the equipment will be manned by the navy.

 “The army, police, air force, DSS and NIMASA are also involved in the effort to rid our waters of criminals.”

 Buhari Assents to Piracy Law

In a move aimed at putting an end to piracy and banditry on Nigeria territorial waters, Buhari recently gave his assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill, 2019.

The Presidential assent dated June 24, 2019 followed the passage of the bill by the Senate and House of Representatives on April 9, 2019 and April 30, 2019, respectively.

The bill passed by the Eighth National Assembly gives effect to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, and the International Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Navigation (SUA), 1988, and its protocols.

NIMASA had facilitated the drafting of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill in 2012, in collaboration with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). It was in a bid to give further credence to the relevant international treaties of the United Nations (UN) and IMO ratified by Nigeria on maritime safety and security and provide a much-needed legal and institutional framework for the country – through its maritime security enforcement agencies: the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA – to ensure safe and secure shipping on Nigerian waters, and prosecute infractions.

Besides addressing maritime insecurity, the new law, very importantly, fulfills the international requirement for standalone legislation on piracy, as against the approach of using the Maritime Operations Coordinating Board Amendment Bill to criminalise piracy.

With the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act, Nigeria officially become the first country in the West and Central African sub-region to promulgate a separate law against piracy, an important international requirement set by the IMO as part of measures to guarantee secure global shipping.

Speaking on the presidential assent, the Director-General of NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, described the move as a step in the right direction, saying, “It marks the dawn of a great moment for world maritime.” 

Dakuku said, “This is not just a victory for NIMASA, but also for all the stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime community. We are determined to continue to deliver on our promise to investors and the international community to ensure an increasingly safer and more secure environment for profitable maritime business.

“And the new law at this very critical stage of our Blue Economy drive is certainly an elixir that will boost our capacity to harness the rich potential of our seas and oceans.” 

He thanked the president for “his commitment and passion for measures that will guarantee safety and security on Nigerian waters.” He also appreciated the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for their support. Dakuku assured that the agency will continue to work with relevant partners and organisations to achieve its aim of ridding the country’s waterways and exclusive economic zone of criminal activities.

“No man is an island; hence NIMASA cannot achieve much without the support of other stakeholders. 

This is the time we all need to work more closely together, so that we don’t give room to criminals to have their way in our maritime domain,” he added.

“Some of the significant provisions of the Act include a distinct definition of piracy and other maritime offences/unlawful acts; punishment upon conviction for maritime crimes; restitution to owners of violated maritime assets or forfeiture of proceeds of maritime crime to the Federal Government; and establishment of a Piracy and Maritime Offences Fund with prescribed sources of funding that will be utilised in the implementation of the Act. 

“The new law also vests exclusive jurisdiction for the determination of matters under the Act on the Federal High Court. It empowers relevant authorities mentioned under the Act to seize vessels or aircraft used for maritime crimes anywhere in Nigeria and in international waters or in the jurisdiction of any country where the ship is reasonably believed to be a pirate-controlled ship or aircraft.”

Stakeholders View

Despite government optimism, Nigeria’s foremost shipping mogul, Greg Ogbeifun advised that the nation should not put all its hopes or eggs in the anti-piracy basket.

He, however, lauded the current efforts towards overcoming the challenges of piracy in the nation’s waters.

The immediate past head of the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Ogbeifun specifically noted the difference between the newly-enacted anti-piracy law as a working tool, as different from equally identifying the factors that exacerbated piracy as an environmental challenge, and counsel on the need to focus at finding solution to the later, while using the former as a tool for reducing crime-equilibrium.

He urged Nigerians to address the piracy from its root cause, and praise the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, for her recent initiative to directly push up economic activities in the South-east and South-south, through a significant slash in the cost of doing port business in the Eastern ports.

He urged Nigerians, particularly those in policy and decision making process to empower firms with the capacity to create jobs, noting that until the restive, unemployed youths were engaged and provided with hope, the anti-piracy law may remain Pyrrhic victory or exercise on paper.

Reacting to the development, an officer in the International Ships and Ports Facility Security, ISPS Code Unit of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Adebayo Olatoke, said that the IMB has a lot of sources of information adding that most time this information are not correct.

Olatoke also said a lot of wrong information was passed across adding that most of these reports are unverified.

He said: “This is a manipulation of the system; most of these reports are made after these vessels travel out of our waters. If there are attacks, even if the attacks are not carried out on our waters, when the captain of the vessel is reporting, he will report the fact that the place of attack is Nigeria. 

With the signing of the law against pirate attack in Nigeria, the waters will become uncomfortable for pirates in another six months.”