Aside the traditional crimes that have bedeviled the maritime domain for decades, Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that emerging security threats like attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft, as well as other transnational organised crimes, are some of the challenges being tackled by the Nigerian Navy in its quest to secure the nation’s and the Gulf of Guinea waters
World over, security threats keep evolving from traditional to conventional warfare. In the maritime domain, same rings true. In the past, the maritime domain was threatened by piracy, sea robbery, illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) and marine pollution. Now, emerging security threats within the Nigerian maritime domain stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities, which are manifested through attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft.
This and more were of the things the Nigerian Navy(NN) tackled recently at the West African Shipping Summit held during the London International Shipping Week. According to the Chief of the Naval Staff, Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, said as the lead agency responsible for security in the vast maritime environment, the navy has initiated various programmes and operations geared towards creating a safe and secure maritime space for commerce to thrive.
Dissecting the topic of ‘Security of the Nigerian Maritime Domain-Issues and Options’, Ibas who was represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans Naval Headquarters, Rear Admiral Begroy Ibe-Enwo, noted that the global maritime commons have remained a veritable medium for driving growth, development and prosperity amongst both littoral and land-linked nations in the 21st century, just as he added that African seaborne trade has equally benefited from this growth albeit with attendant maritime security challenges, particularly within the Gulf of Guinea.
Nigeria’sMaritime Space and its Attendant Challenges
With a coastline of about 420nm, the Nigerian maritime domain lays claim to 200 nautical miles (nm) of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in line with United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
According to Ibas, they have also initiated the process of claiming a 350nm extended continental shelf, within the GoG because this maritime space has tremendous economic potentials due to its rich hydrocarbon deposits, fishery resources, and several port facilities which if well harnessed are capable of improving the livelihood of the nation’s population.
However, he noted that despite the aforementioned prospects, the frequent abuse by diverse interests across the vast maritime domain has continued to buoy concerns. More disturbing he noted is the fact that many of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic life line of the nation, with negative impact on development and the well being of our citizens.
Considering the wide expanse of the nation’s maritime domain with over 3,000 creeks and the frequent mutation and transnational nature of maritime crimes, the NN he said has had to initiate various independent operations and collaborative efforts with relevant stakeholders to curb the menace.
Still on the inherent challenges he said in the last two decades, piracy and sea robbery within the GoG have become a major point of discussion with the region ranked as one of the most troubled waterways, adding that it is estimated that the annual cost of piracy to the GoG region is over 2billion dollars.
Another major issue affecting the security of the maritime domain he said is the poor socio-economic conditions of the people of the Niger Delta region. “The region like most other parts of Africa is plagued with some level of poverty, inadequate social infrastructure especially as it relates to health, education and transport, as well as youth unemployment, among others.
“This makes the youth vulnerable to crimes, as they are readily available to be used as tools, by powerful maritime crime syndicates to perpetrate all forms of criminalities including oil and gas pipeline vandalism, piracy/sea robbery on merchant shipping as well as operation of illegal crude oil refineries. The economic conditions of the people of the Niger Delta region therefore portends a critical issue in the discourse of the security of Nigeria’s maritime domain and, needs to be addressed expeditiously”, he noted.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned challenges, the CNS said the navy has been at the forefront of tackling them to emplace a viable domain for maritime business to thrive. While highlighting the navy’s independent operational engagements established to check criminality at sea he listed Operation TSARE TEKU an anti-piracy operation and Operation RIVER SWEEP which is an anti-Crude Oil Theft(COT) and anti-Illegal refining operation.
Ibas said since the activation of the anti-piracy operation three years ago, there has been a successive decline in reported cases of piracy/sea robbery attacks within Nigeria’s maritime domain. The operation, he added has also contributed to significant improvement in shipping into Nigeria’s maritime environment as attested to by the Nigerian Shippers Council.
The anti-COT and illegal refining operations on the other hand incorporates the Choke Point Management and Control Regime, involving the deployment of armed personnel in houseboats designated at strategic chokepoints within the creeks to prevent any stolen crude from being taken away in ships or barges to mother vessels at sea.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) he said, has attested to the successes of Operation RIVER SWEEP, confirming huge savings for the nation due to massive reductions in pipeline product losses between 2015 and 2018.
Apart from these two specifically designed operations, which are accentuated by the Choke Point Regime, he said the navy continues to conduct policing patrols across the nation’s EEZ and territorial waters employing the advantage of its maritime situational awareness infrastructure to coordinate and direct the pattern of patrols.
He said; “The service is thus able to conduct round the clock surveillance of our maritime space using Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) facilities in addition to surface vessels and helicopters toensure effective electronic tracking of vessels within our maritime environment whether fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) or not. The systems also serve as force multipliers, as NN patrols are more mission oriented with attendant reduction in operational logistics cost.
“Following the historic tracking and arrest of the hijackers of a tanker MT MAXIMUS by the NN at the fringes of Sao Tome and Principe in 2016, the service has continued to achieve several successes using the MDA systems. For instance, in 2019 alone the MDA Systems were used to vector NN platforms to arrest over 25 vessels for suspicion of committing various infractions within Nigerian waters.
“To further enhance NN surveillance and MDA network, the service recently signed an MoU on white shipping with the Indian Navy and has recently been endorsed to join the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in addition to the Italian based Trans-Regional Maritime Network, which she joined in 2015. These strategic partnerships have the potential to further enhance the NN’s capacity to engage with other major maritime nations particularly in areas of information sharing and relevant advisories to check criminality across the Mediterranean sea as well as the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, with positive impact on NN maritime policing duties.”
Aptly acknowledging that no tree makes a forest, the CNS noted that to enhance maritime operations, the navy constantly engages with various stakeholders like the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety
Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Customs, Immigration and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)
These engagements, he said foster a shared vision on the accomplishment of maritime security to bolster common efforts to emplace a more conducive environment for shipping and other maritime activities. One positive outcome of such consultation is the launch of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures (HSOP) on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons (HSOP AD&P) in Nigeria’s Maritime Environment in January 2017.
“Further to the launch of the HSOP, the navy constantly engages directly with each agency on modalities for implementation, thus creating the desired synergy, resulting in arrest of over 130 vessels within the past two years. The HSOP was further boosted as a legal instrument for the prosecution of maritime crimes in Nigeria by Mr President’s recent assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill of 2019.
“Pertinently, the Act would serve as strategic deterrent to the commission of various criminalities within the nation’s maritime environment and curtail the excesses of syndicates that continue to profit from sponsoring acts of piracy within the GoG. The Act also demonstrates the government’s resolve to enforce maritime law within the region towards changing global negative perception of the GoG as a haven for insecurity. However, considering the transnational and migratory nature of these maritime crimes there is the need for even greater international collaboration to boost maritime law enforcement,” he added.
Asides the aforementioned agencies and services, Ibas also gave credit to the centrality of collaboration with other maritime nations and international maritime agencies in order to achieve successful maritime security operations.
“The NN has equally shown commitment to strengthening international collaboration towards improving maritime security in the GoG. In line with the intention to collectively address maritime security challenges in the global commons, the NN has supported regional efforts towards collective maritime security.
“Following the 2013 Yaoundé Declaration which adopted an inter-regional Code of Conduct for inter-navy cooperation between Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) States, the NN in concert with other regional navies has instituted measures to check migratory crimes.
“Accordingly, the navies of ECOWAS Zone E made up of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and the Gendarmerie of Niger Republic recently endorsed an MoU for combined patrol of their common maritime domain. There has also been increased collaboration between the NN and navies from other partner nations to boost synergy in addressing illegalities within the GoG.”
All these achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the right platforms. To this Ibas said” despite a harsh fiscal environment at home, the Nigerian Government has remained committed to enhancing the response capability of the NN through the acquisition of more patrol vessels and aircraft. Noteworthy is the on-going fleet expansion programme which has led to addition of several OPVs, Seaward Defence Boats, induction of over 250 Inshore Patrol Boats including the strengthening of the NN air bases.
“The fleet recapitalisation effort has enabled the NN to extend reach in support of regional effort to secure the common seas while enabling the service better attend to her domestic policing roles. The modest attainment by these acquisitions clearly suggests that more ships with prolonged endurance such as OPVs are needed for sustained presence at sea and the protection of critical assets in the deep offshore areas.
“Going forward, the NN intends to leverage such audience as today’s, to strengthen discussions with international partners regarding a sustainable collaboration to collectively meet these needs.
Though the NN has in recent years renewed her fleet with new acquisitions, the fact still remains that the ships are not enough to maintain continuous presence as required to dominate the maritime space of interest.
“This inadequacy has resulted in information gaps making it difficult to acquire a holistic picture of the environment needed to share with relevant users. As part of effort to overcome this challenge, the NN has resorted to local ship building efforts to increase the size of her fleet. Some of the indigenous built vessels are shown on the screen.
“Other countries within the sub region could key into the NN’s ship building effort to expand their fleet in order to move at a common and consistent pace within the sub-region. Plans are also at advanced stages to introduce Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs)/Drones thereby further enhancing operational capability.”
While reiterating the navy’s commitment to emplace a secure maritime environment for the prosperity of Nigeria and indeed the GoG and global commons in general, Ibas however advised seafarers and ship owners to adopt pragmatic measures to improve their individual safety and security at sea through evasive manoeuvres, increase of speed, use of citadels as well as use of Safe Anchorage Areas (SAA) and convoy.