Eromosele Abiodun writes on efforts by the country to reduce incessant attacks on ships by pirates
By the middle of last year when the Nigerian government announced the gradual deployment of the $195 million maritime security equipment it acquired to fight piracy and insecurity in the Niger delta, a not very cheery news broke about the increasing pirates attacks on Nigeria’s territorial waters.
Put simply, Nigeria was rated number one in pirates attack in the Gulf of Guinea by the International Maritime bureau (IMB).
The IMB is a specialised department of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The IMB’s responsibilities include in fighting crimes related to maritime trade and transportation, particularly piracy and commercial fraud, and in protecting the crews of ocean-going vessels.
IMB in a report said Nigeria led the table of pirate attacks with 21 recorded incidents between January and June 2019, as against 31 for the period of 2018, thereby beating Indonesia, which recorded 11 attacks, Venezuela six attacks and Peru with four attacks in six months. The IMB is part of ICC Commercial Crime Services whose other divisions include The Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau, The Financial Investigation Bureau.
According to the report, Gulf of Guinea saw 73 per cent of all kidnappings at sea, and 92 per cent of hostage takings. Pirates kidnapped 27 crewmembers in the first half of 2019 and 25 in the same period in 2018.
Also, two chemical tankers were hijacked, as well as a tug that was then used in another attack. Of the nine vessels fired upon, eight were off the coast of Nigeria. These attacks took place on average 65 nautical miles off the coast.
According to the report, the four locations contributed 55 per cent to the total 77 attacks reported in the period as against 75 per cent of 106 attacks reported in 2018.
IMB said pirates and sea robbers are often well armed, violent and have attacked, hijacked, robbed ships, kidnapped crew along far from the coasts, rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters.
While six country namely: Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Venezuela featured on that pirate attack chart in 2018, Nigeria and three other countries with Peru coming in as a new entrant on the chart.
It added that all kind of weapons such as guns, knives and other dangerous material were deployed to carry out attacks on vessels, a development that led to some seafarers being injured and kidnapped.
The report read in part, “In the past, incidents reported up to about 170 Nautical Miles from the coast. In many past incidents pirates hijacked the vessels for several days and ransacked the vessels and stole part of the cargo usually gas oil.
“A number of crewmembers were also injured and kidnapped in these incidents. Generally, all waters in and off Nigeria remain risky. Vessels are advised to be vigilant, as many incidents may have gone unreported. Incident continues to rise substantially especially kidnapping of crews for ransom. Vessels are advised to take additional measures in the high-risk waters.
“Although, there was a reduction in the number of attacks in the African region, Nigeria still led the continent all through 2018 and first half of this year. In first six months of 2018, 39 bulk carriers were attacked as against 20 in 2019. For container vessels, nine were attacked in 2019 while six attacks were reported in 2018 as against crude oil tanker that reported 9 in 2018 and 12 in 2019.
“For Chemical tankers and offshore tug vessels, 30 and 3 vessels were reported in 2019 while 22 and 2 attacks were reported in 2019. Vessels carrying Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) had no reported cases in 2018, but had one of such vessels attacked in 2019.”
Reversing the Trend
Following the IMB report, Nigeria stepped up its fight against pirates, a move that is yielding the desired results.
Two weeks ago, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) handed over 10 pirates arrested by the Nigerian Navy for prosecution.
The 10 pirates had on May 15 attacked and boarded a Chinese vessel, MV HAILUFANG II, off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire and directed it towards Nigerian waters. They were arrested by the Nigerian Navy, which dispatched a ship to intercept the vessel after it got an alert.
The prosecution of the pirates would be the first trial of bandits arrested in international waters under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act signed into law in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The law made Nigeria the first in West and Central Africa to have a distinct antipiracy legislation.
Speaking at the occasion, the Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh attributed the successful operation that led to the arrest of the pirates and rescue of the ship and its crew to collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy.
He said the agency would continue to work with relevant security agencies in order to achieve its goal of eradicating piracy and all forms of illegality on the Nigerian waters.
“We have just witnessed the hand-over of pirates. This is as a result of the robust collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. There has been a lot of synergy between NIMASA and the Navy with regard to the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act.
“I also want to seize the opportunity to thank Mr. President for signing the anti-piracy law, which would facilitate sufficient prosecution of these pirates.”
Jamoh, who was represented by the agency’s Head of Legal Services, Mr. Victor Egejuru, assured stakeholders that with the anti-piracy law, there was ample legal framework to prosecute pirates and other perpetrators of maritime offences in the country to bring the menace to the barest minimum.
Commander of Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Beecroft, Commodore Ibrahim Shettima, who gave details of the naval operation, said the vessel had 18 crew members comprising Chinese, Ghanaians, and Ivorians.
Shettima said: “On interception of the vessel about 140nm south of Lagos Fairway Buoy, the pirates had refused to comply with the orders of the Navy ship, hence the Nigerian Navy had to conduct an opposed boarding of the vessel. All ship crew were safely rescued, while the 10 pirates were also arrested.”
He stressed the need for increased regional cooperation and information sharing, disclosing that the arrest of the pirates was due to a tip-off by the Beninoise Navy. Shettima warned criminal elements to stay away from Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, saying the Navy has the capability to deal with such threats.
Jamoh has said the current management of NIMASA will focus on three main areas, namely, Maritime Security, Safety, and Shipping Development, in pursuit of a robust maritime domain for the country.
FG hand over Vessel
In another plus for Nigeria, the federal government recently handed over a fishing vessel, ‘Marine 707,’suspected to be carrying out illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea to the Ghanian authorities for further investigation and possible prosecution.
Nigeria also handed over 51 crew members, including 48 Ghanians and three South Korea nationals to the government of Ghana and Korea respectively.
The vessel which had authorisation to fish in Ghana and Benin waters, was arrested by the Nigerian Navy around Lagos waters.The Automatic Identification System (AIS) was switched off after being suspected to be used for piracy or being used as a mother ship to conduct piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
While speaking during the official hand-over of the Ghanaian-flagged vessel and the crew to the respective authorities, Jamoh said the partnership between the Navy and NIMASA, which is now hinged on intelligence, has put Nigeria on a pedestal of winning the war against piracy and other illegal acts at sea.
Jamoh who was represented by the agency’s Commander, Maritime Guard Command, Commodore Aniete Ibok disclosed that though preliminary investigations could not establish that the vessel and her crew were directly linked to piracy, he argued that the vessel still ran afoul of international laws for shutting down its Automatic Identification System (AIS) 36 times in the last six months, three of which were done in the Nigerian waters.
According to him “we are handing over this vessel to the Ghanaian authorities in the spirit of bilateral cooperation between both countries enjoy. We have done our preliminary investigations and we are yet to establish any concrete evidence against the vessel but again, we would not know what she would be doing whenever she turns off her AIS, which occurred 36 times without being logged in her record book in line with international protocols and three of these were in our domain. “However in the spirit of brotherhood that Ghana and Nigeria enjoys we are handing over the vessel to Ghana for further investigations.”
IMO Commends NIMASA
Following the successes recorded by Nigeria, the specialised shipping regulatory agency of the United Nations, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), praised Nigeria’s effort to stem piracy in its waters and the Gulf of Guinea stressing that the country is sending a “strong and valuable message” to the global community.
The Secretary-General of the IMO, Kitack Lim, made this known in a letter addressed to the Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh.
Lim said he was impressed by Nigeria’s efforts, “to address maritime security threats in the region,” adding that Jamoh’s “leadership and proactive response” to maritime security issues were laudable.
Jamoh had told the IMO Secretary-General at a previous virtual meeting following the arrest of some pirates by the Nigerian Navy, in partnership with NIMASA, that piracy in the region was being sustained by powerful foreign collaboration. He appealed for support from the international community to complement the steps being taken by Nigeria towards ridding the country’s waters of maritime crimes.
“I would also like to reiterate my congratulations to the Nigerian Navy on the successful capture and arrest of pirates from the fishing trawler Hailufeng II, and more recently on the rescue of the crewmembers of the containership Tommi Ritscher, ”Lim stated in the letter.
“Those actions, together with all the other initiatives you highlighted in our meeting, including progress with the Deep Blue Project, send a strong and valuable message to the international community with respect to the considerable efforts your Government is making to curb piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Guinea,” he added.
The IMO Secretary-General reiterated the organisation’s readiness to assist NIMASA in the training of personnel and technical assistance, and also declared his willingness to talk to other member countries to assist in that respect.
He said IMO would help to deal with the issue of synergy in laws regarding piracy with other neighbouring countries.