The authorities could do more to make our waters safe

A recent statement by the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Bashir Jamoh, on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is revealing. He said last January an informant showed him a picture of a suspected pirate who currently works with Shell. The informant said that if the suspected pirate could be arrested, much information regarding maritime insecurity in our waters would come to light. The “suspect” is also known to a naval officer. “What we are doing now,” said Jamoh, “is investing so much on intelligence gathering.”

What the foregoing suggests is that the authorities are aware of those who are sabotaging not only our economy but also the national security. Yet they refused to take concrete action against them. It is therefore little wonder that Nigeria is now in a security bind. The number of lives that have been lost to piracy drives fear into shipping practitioners, especially ship captains. Apart from reducing the number of vessels calling at the nation’s seaports due to the fear of attacks, it has helped in no small measure to increase the cost of doing business in Nigeria as ship owners and the consignees now charge higher than they do for other countries. These costs are eventually passed off to the final consumer. While there is unanimity among shipping practitioners that sea piracy cannot be totally eradicated, stakeholders believe the menace can be minimised in our country.

While Nigeria has for several years been a hotspot for piracy incidents, recent report is encouraging. It indicates that in the first quarter of 2019, Nigeria experienced a decrease in reported piracy incidents in comparison to the number of incidents in the first quarter of 2018. These results, according to the report “confirm the Nigerian Navy’s increased efforts to ‘actively respond to reported incidents by dispatching patrol boats,’ the report notes”. But the report also said: “Despite these efforts, Nigerian waters remain risky for vessels, especially the port of Lagos where four incidents have been reported.”

We commend the Navy for their efforts as we urge the Nigerian authorities to do more to make our waters safe and rid the country of what has become another emblem of shame. According to a recent International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) report, the Gulf of Guinea represented a high number of piracy and armed robbery attacks at sea, with 22 incidents reported in the first quarter of 2019. It also said the region accounted for all of the worldwide crew kidnappings as 21 crew members were kidnapped across five separate incidents. Incidents were reported in the coastal countries of Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo in the first quarter of 2019.

The spate of attacks has given Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea a very negative image in the comity of maritime nations. It has also led to the high cost of freight as ship owners and crew members often demand high insurance premium before embarking on any voyage to Nigeria. For most of last year, according to the EOS Risk Group, there were dozens of Nigerian pirate attacks on merchant and fishing vessels in the Gulf of Guinea. We hope the federal government will assist NIMASA to put in place necessary measures so that the Nigerian territorial waters will not continue to harbour criminals.

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