Eromosele Abiodun writes that the attack on a container vessel last week by pirates barely two months after a bulk carrier, Vinalines Mighty was attacked 40 nautical miles off Bonny last December makes mockery of Nigeria
In a move ostensibly planned to rubbish recent announcement by the federal government through the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi that the government is planning to deploy specialised equipment to halt the piracy and criminality in the Niger Delta, pirates recently attacked a container vessel off Nigerian coast last week.
The vessel, operated by Hamburg-based Bernhard Schulte Ship management, was attacked by two speedboats in the Gulf of Guinea last Friday. The Maersk Tema was attacked by two speedboats off the Nigerian coast, a spokesman for the company said.
The spokesman, who said the crew followed emergency procedures, however, did not say whether the pirates had boarded the ship.
Maersk Tema was at 200 nautical miles South West Bonny and was underway from Point Noir to Lagos when it was attacked. Two unknown men are believed to have boarded the vessel and two skiffs were seen in the vicinity of the attack.
This incident is coming barely two months after a bulk carrier, Vinalines Mighty, was attacked and boarded by three pirates 40 nautical miles off Bonny on December 31, 2019.
Last week’s attack was the fifth incident to occur within the Nigeria – Sao Tome JDZ since November 2019.
A major player in the industry told THISDAY that pirates operating within this area are assessed to be seeking to exploit the relative lack of established security presence in the waters beyond the Nigerian EEZ.
“Pirates have shown a capability and intent to attack large vessels underway, indicating a high degree of confidence and capability. It is assessed as highly likely that pirates operating within this area have originated from within Nigeria and are likely to do so with support from a larger vessel. The conduct of deep offshore pirate operations beyond the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone was a significant feature of West African piracy throughout 2019,”he said.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, nine out of 10 maritime incidents of piracy and kidnappings for ransom are reported in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, which stretches 5,700 kilometres (3,500 miles) from Senegal to Angola.
“As the number of crew members kidnapped by pirates worldwide decreased, the number reported in the Gulf of Guinea increased from 78 in 2018 to 121 in 2019,” the IMB stated.
$195 million Security Contract
Last year, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), approved a $195 million maritime security contract with an Israeli firm, HLS International Limited. The contract, the government said, was in line with efforts to curb increasing criminal activities such as piracy, sea robbery, kidnapping, oil theft, illegal bunkering, smuggling and illegal trafficking in drugs and persons within the Gulf of Guinea, especially Nigeria.
As the government pussyfoot about security, the incidents of piracy and criminality reached an all time high driving international oil companies (IOCs) to seek urgent intervention. Following the deteriorating security situation, the government a little over two weeks ago, announced that it has commenced effort to solve the problem with commencement of training of the special forces that will be involved in the operation.
Amaechi, who disclosed this in Lagos after a meeting with IOCs and other stakeholders in the maritime sector, stated that the meeting was conveyed to assure the IOCs and the international community that the government is on top of the situation and is well able to solve it.
Amaechi also stated that the Israeli firm would only provide training and equipment while members of the armed forces, who are specially trained, will man the waters.
He added that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was working with the armed forces to man Nigeria’s territorial waters revealing that assets acquired by the federal government in that respect has started arriving the country.
Giving an update on the assets that had arrived Nigeria, the Director General of NIMASA, Dr Dakuku Peterside said: “In terms of assets, six interceptor boats are in the country, the first special mission vessel came into the country December last year and the second mission vessel will be in the country in February. The first special mission aircraft will be in the country before the end of the first quarter of this year. Six armoured vehicles are in the country already, apart from that, the first unmanned aerial vehicle will come in between now and the end of February.
“We expect the first helicopters in the first quarter of this year. Apart from the six-armoured vehicle fitted with communication equipment, almost all the communication equipments are in the country already. The personal gear to kit the dedicated forces are also here. Our intelligent system is fully operational in Kirikiri. However, between now and June this year, 80 per cent of the assets will be in Nigeria to be manned by the Nigerian military.”
He added: “Training are in phases, the first set of training for sea fire operators have been concluded, the intelligence officers course has also been concluded, basic infantry training for soldiers who will fight on land around the littoral areas and the soldiers are waiting to be deployed.
“What is holding them from being deployed is that we were waiting for the armoured personnel carriers and the intervention personnel gear, both are now in the country, then the ammunition and arms are also in the country. Part from that the first set of persons have been trained for maritime security unit, the second set will commence any moment from now, which is the advance maritime security training which take place in a Naval facility in Onne in Rivers State.”
Amaechi called on Nigerians and the people of the Niger delta not to misconstrue heavy military presence as an invasion adding that he is afraid that when the operation fully commence some mischievous elements will try to frustrate the effort by painting the operation as the North invading the South.
In addition to the officers and men of the Nigerian Navy, he said other members of the Sea Force, which will jointly man the vessels, include: the Nigerian Army, Directorate of State Security Service (DSS), the Nigeria Police and operatives of NIMASA.
The federal government, he stated, would stamp out all forms of insecurity such as piracy, sea robbery, kidnapping for ransom and oil theft, among others within the nation’s maritime domain as it begins a phased implementation of its new maritime security architecture.
Reacting to the ugly trend, the National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Agents (NCMDCLA), called on the federal government to set up a special committee made up of professionals to offer advice on maritime security.
The National President, NCMDCLA, Mr Lucky Amiwero insisted that maritime security was not a matter for senators to handle but professionals in the security field needed to be brought in to advise the government on security measures to be deployed.
The NCMDLCA president said with a professional advisory team, the government would then know if there was a need to set up special security anchorage for the Niger Delta or deploy Coast Guards like it is done in advanced countries.
“Piracy attacks on our waters do not portray the country well in terms of security, because of the insurance premium and the tendency for people to abandon our shores,” he said.
Commenting on the issue, the President, Nigeria Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Captain TajudeenAlao said the situation makes Nigeria look bad in the eye of the global community.
He recommended war ship, aircraft and patrol boats on the waters, saying that Nigeria was not doing enough to protect its maritime domain.
“Forty years ago, it was never like this. Things have deteriorated.We should position boats where the criminals come out and go in. The Navy, Customs, civil defence must be at sea,” he said.
Late 2017, Peterside confirmed the U.S maritime administration report that Nigeria water is deadly and unsafe.
The NIMASA DG stated this against the backdrop of Nigeria’s Loss of a seat in Category C of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Peterside said Nigeria insecure and unsafe water contributed immensely to the nation’s woes at IMO election.
Speaking to journalists at the end of a meeting of the ‘G7 Friends of Gulf of Guinea Group’ in Lagos, he explained that G7 Friends of the Gulf of the Guinea Group is one of the international initiatives Nigeria is leveraging on to strengthen fight against piracy and other criminal activities on the sea.
The NIMASA boss said the impression of the international community is that Nigeria was not doing enough to tackle the challenge adding that it contributed immensely to Nigeria losing the election.
“I cannot deny the fact that the issue of piracy may have had some impact on the elections. Our colleagues did not have much information about what we were doing to tackle piracy and there was a general impression that Nigeria was not doing enough to tackle the issue of piracy, ”he said
Also, speaking on the amount spent on the lost election, the DG said a whopping N100 million was expended on Nigeria failed election bid.
“NIMASA spent less than N100 million for the IMO campaign and it was only three delegates that attended the conference from NIMASA, “he said.
He explained that countries like Singapore, China, and United Arab Emirates attended the IMO with highest number of delegates.
Speaking further on why Nigeria lost out of the IMO election, Peterside identified late preparations, delay from the Federal Executive Council and recession as another reason why the country lost.
“Also, late preparations and the fact that we did not go round other countries like others did, it would have cost plenty of money but we are not willing to spend such money. We had considered economic factors in context of our political aspirations.
“It is Nigeria that ran for IMO category C, and for you to use the name Nigeria, you must get the approval of the man who is managing all the country, the president just got elected, so it would have gone through a process, we have lost some time but the approval eventually came, after we got the approval, there are also budgetary processes to go through, even if the approval was given two years ago, we also need to do the background work to get budgetary provision for it before we begin the campaign, all of these things affected our early preparations.
“But now that we know better, we are starting the next preparations immediately, because we deserve a place in the council of the IMO, these are what we meant by late preparations, “he explained.