By Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja and Sylvester Idowu in Warri
The Nigerian Navy in the Niger Delta region yesterday commenced a sea exercise aimed at enforcing the use of Automatic Identification System (AIS) by vessels operating in the region’s waterways.
It said the exercise was prompted by the activities of some vessels operating within the command’s maritime environment, which are in the habit of switching off their AIS which impedes their identification.
According to the navy, the criminal act by the operators interferes with the Nigerian maritime awareness infrastructure from monitoring or tracking such vessels’ activities.
The Flag Officer Commanding, Central Naval Command, Rear Admiral Saidu Garba, who declared open the operation code-named: ‘Exercise Akere’, an Ijaw word for ‘arrest’ or ‘catch’, said it would take place between September 23 and 25, 2020.
He added that with the bulk of the country’s economic assets, including oil exploration infrastructure, in the region, it behooved the command to protect the assets and ensure that the country’s maritime economic activities are not disrupted.
Garba said part of the internationally accepted rules guiding vessels operating in the maritime environment, which include flying visible flags and switching on of the AIS, was being flouted by some vessels.
“However, it has been observed in recent times that some vessels operating within the command’s maritime environment are in the habit of switching off their AIS which impedes their identification and interferes with the country’s maritime awareness infrastructure from monitoring or tracking such vessels’ activities.
“This non-observance could be adduced to criminal intent so as to avoid their nefarious activities from being detected. Furthermore, the act of inappropriately switching off AIS could prevent the Nigerian navy from determining vessels that are genuinely in distress probably due to piracy/sea robbery attack, and deserve rescue.
“This act is considered to be a grave infraction of maritime security as it contravenes the rules governing the use and purpose of AIS and the general safety of other seafarers.
“The act of deliberately switching off AIS for illegal activities has led to economic losses and sabotage to the country’s economic growth and prosperity,” he stressed.
Garba added: “Today, we are deploying eight ships and a helicopter to carry out intensive patrols of the waterways and sea lanes in order to ensure strict compliance to the use of AIS by vessels in our maritime environment and prevent other maritime crimes for sustainable economic activities to thrive.
“The ships will conduct Vessels’ Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) on all suspected vessels as well as arrest defaulters. The exercise will also afford the fleet the opportunity to practice other evolutions such as ship maneuvers, emergency drills, communication exercises and gunnery firing among others.”
He noted that the directive of the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, to use the enforcement processes to help minimise economic sabotage in the country’s maritime environment through enhanced patrol and operations must be carried out to the letter.