Appraising Navy’s Effort in Tackling Maritime Crimes

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Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas - Chief of Naval Staff PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT (PMB) JULY 13 2015

In this report, Chiemelie Ezeobi takes a critical look at the Nigerian Navy’s effort in tackling the myriad maritime crimes, comprising piracy, crude oil theft, smuggling, among others

The prevalent maritime security challenges in Nigeria’s maritime domain, comprising sea robbery, piracy, crude oil theft, illegal and unregulated fishing, militancy, as well as smuggling, underpin the need to emplace a robust and efficient operational strategic framework for the protection of the nation’s maritime space.

Thus, when the Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas assumed office on July 13, 2015 as the 22nd Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), he promulgated his key derivatives popularly known as the Strategic Directive 2015-1, all tailored towards advancing the Nigerian Navy (NN). With the roaring success it achieved, it thus became imperative to leverage on the success of the former to create the Strategic Directive-2, again tailored towards repositioning the NN for greater efficiency. Pursuant to this, the major key priorities was tilted towards sustaining an efficient and effective operational presence at sea to create a secured maritime environment for national prosperity; Building on the credible NN manpower development to achieve optimal professional capability of personnel;

Consolidating on reinvigorated Planned Maintenance System (PMS) for enhanced operational readiness; sustaining the partnership with relevant stakeholders and institutions, locally, as well as internationally under the principle of burden sharing; leveraging requisite motivation and support for personnel; sustaining regional security mechanism to enhance maritime security; as well as continuing to demand the right attitude, high standard of discipline and selflessness from all personnel at all times.

Therefore, this analysis of the NN efforts in curbing various maritime crimes for the first and second quarters of 2018 and 2019 examined anti-smuggling, anti-crude oil theft and anti-piracy/sea robbery operations in the Nigerian waters.

Anti-smuggling Operations

The anti-smuggling operations conducted by various NN bases recorded a significant decrease in the first half of 2019 when compared with the first half of 2018. For instance, within the Area of Operations of NNS VICTORY, Forward Operating Base (FOB) IBAKA, and FOB BADAGRY, the NN intercepted and seized a total of 6,290 bags of rice in the first half of 2019 representing about 54.62 per cent decrease when compared with the 13,681 Bags of rice seized within the same period in 2018.

According to the Director of Naval Information (DINFO), Commodore Suleiman Dahun, there was a marginal decrease observed in the smuggling of petroleum products in the first six months of 2019 when compared with the same period in 2018. For instance, petroleum products totalling about 924,322 litres were seized in the first half of 2019. This represents 13.05 per cent decrease when compared with about 1,063,075litres of smuggled petroleum products intercepted and seized within the same period in 2018.

He further noted that it is noteworthy to state that the sustained anti-smuggling operations by NN Bases recorded significant decrease in smuggled rice and a marginal decrease in petroleum products in the first half of 2019 when compared with the same period in 2018. The reduction in smuggling activities could be attributed to the intensified anti-smuggling patrol efforts of NN bases geared towards complete eradication of all forms of criminalities within their various Areas of Operations.

It is pertinent to note that criminals in Badagry area known for smuggling of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) usually siphoned from Atlas Cove are beginning to venture into the smuggling of other goods lately. For instance, there have been five major interceptions and seizures comprising two seizures of smuggled rice and three of smuggled poultry products during the period within FOB BADAGRY Area of Operations.

It is likely that some of the smugglers operating through Ibaka axis are beginning to face more difficulties in carrying out their nefarious activities in the area due to the intensified patrols of NNS VICTORY and FOB IBAKA and may have resorted to shifting towards Badagry axis. Going forward, NN bases have been directed to step up intelligence gathering efforts and ensure sustained patrols of the seaward flanks of their Area of Operations. Additionally, these units have also been directed to sustain their anti-smuggling patrols with a view to arresting more suspects in their respective Area of Operations.

Anti-crude Oil Theft Operations

Another major operational achievement of the NN is the reduction in the national economic losses through crude oil theft as observed in the first six months of 2019. The successes of the NN’s anti-crude oil theft operations are partly due to sustained intelligence led operations of the bases. These have ensured the destruction of several illegal refineries/illegally refined products as well as seizures of barges, wooden boats and vessels used for conveying stolen crude oil.

For instance, the NN destroyed a total of 227 illegal refineries, 2,688 storage facilities, 364wooden boats and impounded 11barges and 32 vessels from January to June 2019. Furthermore, a total of about 131,085.06 barrels of crude oil and about 29,612,202 litres of illegally refined products valued at about N8.4 billion were destroyed in the course of the NN’s anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) efforts within the period.

These figures represent a significant increase when compared with NN’s anti-COT efforts during the same period in 2018 where the NN destroyed a total of 344 illegal refineries, 1,003 storage facilities, 68wooden boats and impounded five barges and 25 vessels involved in suspected COT. Also a total of about 187,084.59 bblsof crude oil and about 11,879,500 litres of illegally refined products valued at about N6.1 billion were destroyed in the course of the NN’s anti COT efforts within the same period in 2018.

It is to be noted that the 227 illegal refineries destroyed in the first and second quarters of 2019 represents about 34.01 per cent decrease when compared with the 344 illegal refineries destroyed within the same period in 2018. The decrease is largely due to the extensive swamp buggy operations carried out by NNS PATHFINDER and NNS DELTA.

Nevertheless, the increase in the quantity of crude oil and illegally refined products as well as the number of storage tanks, illegal refineries and wooden boats destroyed is attributable to the sustained patrols efforts and intelligence gathering techniques by the Bases as earlier mentioned which have made it difficult to move out stolen products from the backwaters/creeks to the sea. Despite these efforts by the NN to ensure that the oil thieves do not have freedom of action, the criminal elements through their recently adopted confrontational posture with the NN personnel on patrol, have continued to demonstrate their resilience and total resolve to continue with their nefarious activities.

8. In an effort to reduce environmental degradation arising from destruction of illegally sourced petroleum products and illegal refining sites, the DG NOSDRA visited the CNS on 22 May 19, to explore better ways of disposing recovered stolen petroleum products. Sequel to the meeting, NOSDRA nominated 2 of its personnel to collaborate with nominated personnel from the NN to consider better disposal methods of the products instead of burning. This is with a view to reducing environmental degradation and economic losses to the nation. An NN team is already interfacing with NOSDRA. It is envisaged that the outcome of this deliberations would offer better alternatives to the current methods of destruction of seized illegally sourced petroleum products within Nigeria’s maritime environment. Furthermore, the NN Operations Bases and FOBs have been directed to double their efforts and step up intelligence gathering mechanism and security patrols in order to frustrate the crude oil thieves perpetrating illegalities in their various AORs.

Anti-piracy/Sea Robbery

On the anti-piracy/sea robbery operations conducted by NN ships and operations bases, Dahun said it led to slight decrease in the first half of 2019 when compared with the same period in 2018. For instance in 2018, he disclosed that a total of 38 incidents of piracy/sea robbery attacks were recorded from January to June 18 with 10 incidents representing 26.3 per cent successful and 28 incidents representing 73.7 per cent unsuccessful.

On the other hand within the same period in 2019, a total of 29 incidents were reported with 11 representing 38 per cent successful and 18 representing 62 per cent unsuccessful. The slight increase in successful attacks in the first and second quarters of 2019 when compared with the same period in 2018 could have been due to possible compromise and complicity of ship’s crew in some of the reported piracy incidents.

This position was arrived at after some investigations showed that some attacked merchant vessels may have intentionally failed to position lookouts, carry out evasive manoeuvres or muster the whole ship’s crew in the citadel to avoid being abducted. Recall that, two isolated attacks involving MV GLARUS flagged Switzerland and MT APECUS flagged Palau, on 22 September 2018 and 19 April 2019 respectively, were piracy incidents suspected to have been carried out with some level of complicity of the crew members. A detailed breakdown of the summary of attacks on vessels for the first and second quarters of 2018 and 2019 is at Figure 10.

The NN in addition to the integration of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) facilities has continued to maintain presence at sea with continuous deployment of NN ships. However, despite all these efforts, the pirates have continued to evolve new tactics to continue terrorizing sea fearers to the detriment of Nigeria’s shipping industry and its negative effect on economic prosperity of the nation.

The NN would speed up the NN Drones Acquisition and Integration Program as this would enhance NN Operations through early warning which would in turn reduce reaction time for NN platforms. Furthermore, the NN would liaise with NIMASA on the need to inform merchant ship owners to conduct proper vetting of ship’s crew to forestall the possibility of hiring criminal minded individuals. While this position is already being considered, the NN would continue to deploy appropriate platforms in identified areas prone to piracy/sea robbery in other to reduce the rate of attacks on shipping within Nigeria’s maritime domain.