Eromosele Abiodun writes on the rescue of a general cargo ship, the Hungarian Glory managed by Tianjin Xinhai International Ship Management by OMSL in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy
Late December last year, a gang of pirates kidnapped 19 sailors after waylaying then boarding a VLCC, named Nave Constellation, which was loaded with oil. The tanker vessel was moving crude oil when it was attacked by the pirates who abducted 18 Indians and one Turkish crew, leaving only seven crew members aboard the ship.
In a related development, pirates attacked a container vessel about two weeks ago barely two months after a bulk carrier, Vinalines Mighty was attacked 40 nautical miles off Bonny. The attack, which occurred two weeks ago, was on a vessel operated by Hamburg-based Bernhard Schulte Ship management.
“The Maersk Tema was attacked by two speedboats off the Nigerian coast,” a spokesman for the company said.
The company’s 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.
The 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 were 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(IMB), 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.
OMS to the Rescue
Stakeholders and major players in the industry have as a result of the frequent attacks wondered why the government cannot seek alternative means to secure the nation’s territorial waters. They told THISDAY that the company could partner Nigerian security companies who operate in the sector and have the technical competence and assets to man the waters. For instance, they said a Nigerian company, Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL), is well known globally as having the competence and assets to rid Nigerian waters of pirates. The recent recue of a Chinese vessel by OMS Limited give credence to the claim by stakeholders of the company’s competence.
According to a news report on the website of Fleetmon, builders of the world’s first public vessel data collection, which helps organisations deliver better logistic reports, a general cargo ship, the Hungarian Glory, managed by Tianjin Xinhai Intl. Ship Management was attacked by pirates on March 5th on the coastal side of Lagos.
The report stated: “The ship was drifting after the attack, not responding to contact requests. The ship started moving at around 1300 UTC, March 6, after about an hour and went adrift again. As of 1500 UTC, March 6, the ship was still adrift or moving at slow speed, Nigerian Navy patrol boat NNS SPARROW approaching – in nearly 24 hours after the alert, in the vicinity of Lagos with 23 crew reportedly all Chinese.”
The NNS Sparrow is one of the patrol boats of the OMSL audited and approved by the Nigerian Navy and fitted with comprehensive communication equipment, enabling full situational awareness for clients’ enhanced protection. It executed the rescue mission and safely brought the vessel back to Lagos.
A source in the company told THISDAY that: “The vessel is not our client’s vessel but the Navy beckoned on us to assist considering the amount of
bureaucracy it would take for them to execute. We work with the Navy and they are in charge of our vessels so it was easy for them to divert our vessel from Secure Anchorage Area(SAA) for the rescue. They only informed us of their decision because it is of national interest.”
This feat has, understandably, elicited local and international maritime operators.
According to a Chinese operator, “We are glad that when it was necessary, Nigeria had a company it could call on for such emergency operation. We applaud the OMSL for their prompt, proactive and professional intervention.”
Over the years, the OMSL, established to enhance the safeguarding of maritime-related commercial investments by offering expert advice and real-time solutions to security problems, has gone further by providing premier security solutions that help to promote a safe business environment not only in Nigeria but the entire West African Coast.
It is Nigeria’s leading asset protection company dedicated to protecting her natural resources from graft and illegal activities; and has a successful track record of securing strategic national infrastructure and stopping illegal bunkering, vandalism and oil theft.
Private Maritime Security Providers
There have been arguments in recent times as to why the government cannot man its territorial waters and has to rely on the help of private maritime security providers to do the job. However, experts believe such are arguments at misplaced stressing that the norm is a global practice.
According to a study published by the Centre for Strategic & International Studies, titled: “Combating Piracy: Challenges and Opportunities for Regional and Private-Sector Involvement,” the international community is supportive of the idea of assisting government forces in combating sea crimes. For instance, the study identified with local Somali forces in combating piracy.
The study said: “Private industry may represent an opportunity to fill this vacuum by assisting local governments in building their law enforcement capacities. The private sector is already involved in combating piracy at sea and has met with a degree of success in filling counter-piracy roles that traditional forces have been unwilling or unable to take on.
“In recent years, the deployment of private security forces—referred to as Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP)—on board ships traveling through high-risk areas has been greatly expanded. These armed teams serve as both a deterrent as well as an active defense against pirates and have met with praise from the US Department of State as effective and professional. As of March 2012, no ship employing PCASP has been successfully hijacked.”
However, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) does not take a position on the carriage of arms on board ships. It is the responsibility of individual flag states and coastal states to determine if the use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) is appropriate, legal and under what conditions. The organisation has issued guidance to flag, port and coastal states; as well as to ship-owners, ship operators and shipmasters on the use of PCASP on board ships in the High Risk area.
Speaking on the matter recently, an official of the company told THISDAY that, “OMS as an indigenous company has a broad objective of promoting local content in the maritime industry and has been collaborating with the Nigerian Navy in carrying out its statutory duty to promote, co-ordinate, enforce maritime laws and safety regulations in Nigerian waters.
“This collaboration for the past 12 years has significantly improved security in Nigeria’s maritime domain. At the height of piracy, armed robbery at sea and the proliferation of illegal arms importation into Nigeria through the Gulf of Guinea, the Nigerian Navy invited OMSL to help improve security within the Lagos Harbour Approaches.
Senate Seek OMSL Help
Following reports of the company’s effort in partnership with the Navy to secure Nigeria’s waters, the Nigerian senate had recently commended OMSL and asked for its assistance to solve the nation’s security problem.
The senate also praised the company for investing over $400 million in securing Nigerian Waterways.
The Senate also called for proper funding of the Nigerian Navy to enable it procure over one hundred and fifty vessels needed to undertake their constitutional responsibilities of securing the country’s territorial waters
While praising the company, the Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator George Thompson Sekibo said shippers and vessel owners used to hire a minimum of three armed mercenaries for Security when coming to Gulf of Guinea (Nigeria) at a minimum of $7,500 per day before the company came on board.
Lawmakers such as Senator Baba Kaita (APC, Katsina North) and Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe, Central), in their separate contributions, praised the company for its help in providing security for Nigeria’s territorial waters.
According to the lawmakers, the country’s territorial waterways would be exposed to pirates and other forms of insecurity without OMSL.
Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, said stakeholders such as the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA) while appearing before the Joint Committee were indicted over their inability to independently secure the country’s waterways.
“All agencies and stakeholders that have anything to do with this were indicted, and testimonies were received from all of these agencies. One of the critical stakeholders, the Nigerian Navy, came out clean and wrote to the committee that they don’t have the necessary capacity and equipment to secure our waterway.
“It was crystal clear that there was shortage of over 150 vessels and for them to take full charge and responsibility of Nigeria’s waterways, these things are required. OMSL only provides its vessels to the Nigerian Navy. These vessels are taken charge by Nigerian Navy to secure these waterways,” he said.