By Vincent Obia
The seas and oceans are among nature’s most impressive spectacles. They are also among the most lucrative grifts from Mother Nature. And Nigeria is blessed with plenty of this gift.
With a coastline of about 852 kilometres and inland waterways of over 8, 000 kilometres, Nigeria has the natural habitat to exponentially grow its maritime industry and increase the sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Transforming this rich habitat into an economic fulcrum for Nigeria is high on the list of priorities of the President Muhammadu Buhari government. It is also the basis of the transformational initiatives, which the country’s maritime regulator, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has pursued since Dr. Dakuku Peterside became its Director-General in 2016.
With those initiatives gradually and steadily bearing fruit, maritime is being held up as the poster child for the Federal Government’s economic recovery agenda. The sector has continued to live up to that billing, what with all the new developments and improvements under NIMASA’s watch.
Nigeria currently tops the chart on Port and Flag State Control in the West and Central Africa Sub-Region. Surveys by the Abuja Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Port State Control for West and Central Africa Region, otherwise known as Abuja MoU, showed NIMASA outranking the other maritime regulators in the region in inspection of vessels calling at Nigerian ports. Abuja MoU is the apex regional treaty on port control.
The Abuja MoU, led by the Secretary-General, Mrs. Mfon Usoro, stated in the report that Nigeria dominated in detailed inspection of vessels, with 13 exercises out of a total 14 carried out in the continent in 2018. It commended Nigeria enforcement drive.
The increased inspection and survey have ensured that substandard vessels no longer call at Nigerian ports. It has improved safety on Nigerian waters and led to a reduction of vessels with deficiency from 18.99 per cent in 2015 to about 14 per cent in 2018.
Similarly, in pursuance of the goal of maintaining security on its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, and preventing criminalities, Nigeria recently became the first country to have a distinct antipiracy law in West/Central Africa. The Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act 2019, enacted on June 24, 2019 after an assent by the President, provides a legal framework for the prosecution of piracy and other maritime crimes through the country’s maritime security enforcement agencies: the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA. It fulfils a critical international requirement for standalone legislation on piracy, as against the approach of using the Maritime Operations Coordinating Board Amendment Bill to criminalise piracy. The drafting of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill in 2012 had been facilitated by NIMASA, in collaboration with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The law 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.
Nigeria is also playing a leading role in furthering international maritime law, with the ratification of many conventions. The country has ratified 40 conventions passed by IMO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) covering Maritime Safety, Labour, and Marine Environment. Nineteen of the conventions have been domesticated by way of regulation, adoption or incorporation under the Merchant Shipping Act of 2007.
In addition, NIMASA has forwarded to the executive arm of government for ratification six IMO instruments. They include the Hong Kong International Convention for safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships 2009; International Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties, 1969, and the Protocol relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Pollution by Substances other than Oil (Intervention Protocol 1973); International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F); and 1996 Protocol on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims (LLMC).
Others are the 2002 Protocol relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea (PAL) and Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.
NIMASA is working with the Federal Ministry of Transportation under the auspices of an Inter-Ministerial Committee to realise the ratification of these instruments.
Besides the legal and institutional mechanisms, a comprehensive security strategy, the Deep Blue Project, is being deployed to boost stakeholders’ confidence in the Nigerian maritime environment. The Integrated Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure is a multipronged project involving the training of personnel from the military, security services, and NIMASA to man the Command, Control, Communication, Computer and Intelligence systems centre (C4i), and acquisition of assets, such as fast intervention vessels and surveillance aircraft. There are also other facilities, including a command and control centre for data collection and information sharing to facilitate the strategy of targeted enforcement.
Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, told participants of the C4i Intelligence System Operator Course for the Deep Blue Project in March in Lagos, “The length of our coastline, our exclusive economic zone, as well as our strategic location on a major shipping route, which is the Gulf of Guinea, means that we cannot afford illegalities, such as piracy, oil theft, sea robbery, and other crimes.
“The Deep Blue Project is a conscious effort towards addressing illegality in our territorial waters and, indeed, the Gulf of Guinea.”
According to Dakuku, “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.”
As the Designated Authority (DA) responsible for implementing IMO statutes in the country, NIMASA has adopted a Total Spectrum Maritime Security Strategy in trying to combat insecurity on the country’s territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea. The strategy comprises four components, namely, situational awareness, response capability, law enforcement and local partnerships, and regional cooperation.
Under the strategy, there is a Nigerian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) at Kirikiri, in Lagos, which helps to disseminate information in the Nigerian maritime domain. The facility ensures that incident reports from Masters of Ships/Skippers on piracy attacks or suspicious crafts are promptly communicated to the Nigerian Navy for prompt response. Distress messages are also directly intercepted by the centre, thus, eliminating delays in the transmission of messages.
NIMASA is working on a plan 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 in the event of a piracy attack.
At the bilateral and multilateral levels, Nigeria has carried out joint maritime security patrols with regional countries, including the one Benin Republic, codenamed “Operation Prosperity”, which has helped to reduce pirate attacks off both countries’ coast. Part of the fruits of that effort is the cross-border patrols now conducted by Gulf of Guinea member states, law-enforcement intelligence sharing, and maintenance of joint coordination centres.
The United States Navy component of AFRICOM has also conducted exercises with Nigeria’s participation, like Obangame and Saharan Express. NIMASA fully participated in the 2018 edition of Obangame Express held in the Gulf of Guinea region in line with operational agreements.
The Agency has conducted a joint maritime security exercise with INTERPOL, tagged “Operation 30 Days At Sea”. The operation involved the security services, including the Nigeria Police and Nigerian Navy.
The various maritime security measures are already bearing fruit.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB)2019 first quarter report stated that the Nigerian maritime domain recorded no vessel hijack in the period. It was the first time since the first quarter of 1994 that Nigeria would have such a record. The report also said between January and March 2019, Nigeria witnessed a 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,” adding, “It 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.”
Nigeria is proactive in its response to international initiatives intended to promote sustainable shipping. It recently installed a sulphur emission monitoring device on a vessel, becoming one of the first countries to take such a step ahead of the 2020 implementation date for IMO’s 0.5 per cent sulphur cap on all fuel used by ships.
The MTCC Pilot Projects Device Thorium X tablet, Serial No SY9560DS00782, for fuel consumption data collection was installed on the Nigerian-flagged vessel, MT KINGIS, operated by Sea Navigation International Limited.
IMO initiated the sulphur ban to mitigate the harmful effects of high sulphur fuel on the environment.
The maritime world has since begun to acknowledge Nigeria’s fervent effort to promote shipping in a safe and secure environment. The country’s Marine Litter Marshal Initiative, purposed to achieve cleaner seas and oceans, is being applauded at IMO, while the Draft report on the UNEP-GPA –NIMASA partnership on sustainable management of marine litter in Nigerian beaches and waterways, has continued to receive attention at the global maritime regulatory body.
The Agency is also leading the IMO Correspondence Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics.
As part of the rich harvest of recognition, Nigeria chairs the Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA). Dakuku was unanimously elected AAMA chairman in April 2017, and re-elected in 2018 also unanimously.
To cap its effort to improve maritime, Nigeria has invited the whole world to Abuja tomorrow for the Global Maritime Security Conference to tackle the security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea. About 80 countries have confirmed their participation at the three-day conference, which would feature presentations by renowned maritime experts from across the world.
Obviously, there is a meeting of minds between the Buhari government and the maritime industry under NIMASA. Nigeria and the global community have a lot to benefit from this unity of purpose.
As Nigeria seeks to expand and strengthen the links of international solidarity in the fight against piracy and other maritime crimes, it is hoped that the maritime world, which will be converging on Abuja, would stand with it in faithful alliance.
· Obia writes from Lagos.