IMO Council: Nigeria Fought a Good Fight


BY Vincent Obia

It was a strong showing for West and Central Africa’s leader in Port and Flag State Control. Nigeria made a marked improvement on its 2017 record, coming extremely close to election into Category C of the Governing Council of International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and missing the mark by just one vote.

Nigeria’s performance on November 29, 2019 in the IMO London headquarters, during the 31st Assembly of the organisation, was a remarkable improvement from 2017, when it lost by 12 votes.

The country’s delegation to the Assembly had embarked on a vigorous campaign for election into the Governing Council, whose membership Nigeria lost in 2011. The country polled 110 votes to come 21st, one vote short of the 111 polled by Kenya, which came 20th, and made the cut off point for Category C membership of the Council.

West Africa also lost its only seat on the IMO Council, as Liberia was replaced by Kuwait. This reduced Africa’s all Category C IMO Governing Council membership from five to four, with Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, and Kenya retaining their seats in the 20-member Category.

Nigeria will not be on the IMO Council during the 2020 – 2021 biennial. But the important lessons from the last council election can scarcely be lost on the country and the continent. Neither can anyone fail to appreciate the significant improvements Nigeria has recorded in the past few years in the attempt to reposition its maritime sector and make it a major contributor to the national economy and, indeed, the pivot of efforts to wean the country off oil dependence. The progress will remain a boost to national confidence and a major consolation as the country appraises the past and prepares to fight again at the 32nd regular session of the IMO Assembly in 2021.

Nigeria has made remarkable strides in the efficient administration of its vast maritime domain. But considering the global nature of maritime, no country can really optimise the benefits of the sector without the cooperation of others in the comity of nations.

So, the biggest lesson for Africa from the 2019 IMO Council election is, perhaps, the need to work together. About 40 African countries were eligible to vote in the election – 10 from West Africa; seven from North Africa; four from Southern Africa; six from Central Africa; and 13 from East Africa. An effective and honest utilisation of the continent’s votes by the regional member states would have afforded Nigeria and other continental players a better outcome.

Nigeria has done its bit to enhance Africa’s stature within the global maritime community.

The country 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, confirm this, as NIMASA outranks the other maritime regulators in the region in inspection of vessels calling at Nigerian ports.

The Abuja MoU, the apex regional treaty on port control, 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.

The increased inspection and survey have curtailed cases of substandard vessels calling at Nigerian ports. It has improved safety on Nigerian waters by helping to reduce vessels with deficiency from 18.99 per cent in 2015 to about 14 per cent in 2018.

In furtherance of the goal of security on the country’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, 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 and prosecute suspects.

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 helping to strengthen 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.

Beyond the legal and institutional mechanisms, a comprehensive security strategy, the Deep Blue Project, is being deployed to boost 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 (C4i centre), and acquisition of assets, such as fast intervention vessels and surveillance aircraft.

Nigeria has taken delivery of two special mission vessels under the Deep Blue Project. Chairman of the Project Monitoring Team for the Deep Blue Project, Mrs. Olu Mustapha, reiterated the significance of the vessels at a graduation ceremony for C4i system operators organised by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

Commissioned in August 2019, the C4i centre located at the NIMASA-owned Nigerian Maritime Resource Development Centre (NMRDC), Kirikiri, Lagos, serves as the operational nerve centre for the management of all platforms under the Deep Blue Project. The graduation of the C4i operators was another milestone towards the full commencement of the project.

Being the Designated Authority (DA) for the implementation of IMO statutes in the country, NIMASA has adopted the Total Spectrum Maritime Security Strategy in trying to combat insecurity in 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, which disseminates 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 response. Distress messages are also directly intercepted by the centre, thus, eliminating delays in response time.

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, with NIMASA’s fully participation.

The Agency has conducted a joint maritime security exercise with INTERPOL, tagged “Operation 30 Days At Sea”. The operation involved the Nigeria Police and Nigerian Navy, among other security services.

The maritime security measures are already bearing fruit.

The 2019 first quarter report of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) showed 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.

“These latest statistics from the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre are encouraging,” he stated, 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 has maintained a positive attitude 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 clear the seas and oceans of debris, has been 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.

Nigeria also chairs the Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA). The NIMASA Director-General, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, was unanimously elected AAMA chairman in April 2017, and re-elected in 2018 also unanimously.

Just in October, Nigeria hosted the world maritime community in Abuja to seek regional and international solutions to the security issues in the Gulf of Guinea. The Global Maritime Security Conference (GMSC) held October 7 – 9 had about 80 countries in attendance.

The GMSC offered a platform for the world to appreciate and assist Nigeria’s effort to stem insecurity in its maritime domain and the Gulf of Guinea. The global maritime community made ample use of the platform. Perhaps, Africa just needs to do more to effectively harness the international goodwill being attracted by Nigeria.

* Obia writes from Lagos.