In line with its statutory mandate, the Nigerian Navy has in the past five years under the leadership of Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas activated dedicated and routine operations to bridge the security gaps in the nation’s maritime domain to enable legitimate socio-economic activities to thrive despite inherent challenges, Chiemelie Ezeobi reports
The statutory roles of the Nigerian Navy (NN) has always been defined- protecting the territorial integrity of the nation. In the past five years however, this role has been consolidated upon under the present leadership of the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas.
In line with this statutory mandate, the navy in the past five years has overtime activated dedicated and routine operations to bridge the security gaps in the nation’s maritime domain to enable legitimate socio-economic activities to thrive. This has been achieved through the
high premium placed on operational availability of ships, training and motivation of personnel to ensure a zero tolerant posture to criminality within the nation’s maritime domain.
This dedication to ensure a safe and secure maritime domain is not in itself surprising given that Nigeria, as one of the countries in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG), has a coastline of about 420nautical miles (nm) and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200nm covering about 84,000 square nm of the National Maritime Environment (NME).
Also, the nation’s maritime area of interest which includes the entire GoG and is about 574,800 square nautical miles spanning a total coastline of 2,874nm from Senegal to Angola is a huge maritime space rich in numerous hydrocarbon and mineral resources and also serves as a strategic route for maritime trade.
However, insecurity has over the years been a considerable source of concern as the nation’s network of oil and gas installations as well as associated shipping have been threatened by maritime crimes such as piracy, sea robbery, Crude Oil Theft (COT), illegal oil bunkering, smuggling, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, militancy and kidnapping for ransom.
In the past five years that Vice Admiral Ibas has held the helm of leadership, he has drawn from a compelling need to evolve new approaches to combat the spate of insecurity in the maritime environment.
To achieve this, on assumption of office, he promulgated his Strategic Directive 1 and 2 (SD1 and 2). While the SD1 which focused on eight key priority areas to be achieved by the NN under his command covered-operations, fleet renewal, logistics, infrastructural development and human resource development among others, the SD 2 was later promulgated in 2016 to consolidate on the achievements of SD1.
According to information sourced from credible sources, the achievements from 2015 when Vice Admiral Ibas assumed office till 2020 include maritime operations, ship/boat procurement and constructed and renovated projects.
A review of the maritime operations data showed that in the years under review, pirate attacks in the GoG were about 339 while those in Nigerian waters were 214 and sea robbery 107. Also in the period under review, 3,136,877 barrels of crude oil; 1,001,564 metric tonnes of AGO; 2,591,907 litres of PMS and 3,574,360 litres of DPK destroyed.
Also, 4,229 persons were arrested; 5,099 illegal refineries destroyed; 404 vessels; 439 barges; and 531 speed boats arrested while 2,977 wooden boats were either arrested and destroyed; 140 tankers/trucks arrested; 404 arrested and impounded vehicles; 12,008 storage tanks destroyed; and a total of 77,680 bags of rice at the cost of N20,000 per bag (approximately N1.6billion) intercepted.
Under ships/boats procurement, 305 small ships and Inland Patrol Crafts (below 35m); 14 houseboats; four barges/tugboats and 11 capital ships (35m and above) were procured. Meanwhile, for new construction and renovated projects- 3,638 new units were constructed across the nation while 1,613 quarters were renovated.
Although the above statistics give a total breakdown of achievements in the past five years, a further breakdown of last year’s successes showed the NN made significant strides in its operational activities and exercises which greatly improved security within the NME.
Accordingly, major successes were recorded in the number of hours at sea, anti-piracy/sea robbery, anti-COT/illegal bunkering, anti-smuggling operations as well as in NN contribution to joint operations in the hinterland.
One of the major key priorities of the CNS SD-2 was to sustain efficient and effective operational presence at sea in order to create a secured maritime environment for national prosperity. In 2020, over 72.5 per cent of NN operational ships were at sea for an average of 27,758 hrs between January to December 20. Within the period, a total of 87 vessels, 43 barges, 57 speed boats and 393 wooden boats were arrested/deactivated.
On the whole, it could be deduced that sustained NN presence at sea in the last 12 months was responsible for reduction of maritime criminal activities within the nation’s maritime domain. On the whole, from 2015 – 2020, the NN sustained presence at sea for over 135,539 hours.
NN anti-piracy operations have recorded several successes in the fight against pirates and sea robbers. Notwithstanding the recent spike in piracy activities in the Fourth Quarter of 2020, NN anti-piracy operations led to several arrests and raid of suspected pirate camps leading to discoveries of assorted arms and ammunitions.
Although there was a slight increase in 2020 piracy attacks within NME, more than 70 per cent of the attacks were unsuccessful due to NN robust surveillance system and response capability. The successes recorded by the NN necessitated other neigbouring nations to solicit for assistance during emergency situations within their waters. For instance, MV TOMMI RITSCHER, a Portuguese flag ship was attacked in Benin waters on April 19, 2020 but was rescued by the NN.
Also, FV HAILUFENG II hijacked off the Coast of Cote d’Ivoire on May 15, 2020 was rescued by the NN. Similarly, MV ELOBEY VI, boarded by pirates in Equatorial Guinea waters on March 21, 2020 as well as attempted piracy attack on MV ESL AUSTRALIA on May 20, 2020 were all neutralised following NN timely response.
But despite the successes achieved in bringing the rate of piracy to the barest minimum in the year especially in the first three quarters of 2020, the spate of pirates’ attacks/abduction of ships’ crew within Nigeria’s EEZ and the GoG has witnessed an increase in recent months. This could be adduced to the clampdown on COT and illegal oil refining which made perpetrators of these acts to switch to piracy and abduction of seafarers for ransom to meet their financial obligations.
To tackle this, the NHQ emplaced a robust strategy by conducting intensive clearance operations across suspected enclaves of pirates and cults gangs to deny them safe refuge and neutralize their activities and from all indications, it appears to have stemmed the activities of these pirates.
Anti-COT/Illegal Oil Bunkering Operations
The NN equally performed credibly well in the fight against COT and illegal oil bunkering within the year under review (2020) as a total of 982 illegal local refineries/refining sites were deactivated with about 487 suspects arrested.
In the area of illegal bunkering, the NN denied crude oil thieves a total of 3,136,877bbls as well as over 7,167,831 litres of different petroleum products among others, all worth billions of naira.
Sustained NN anti-COT/Illegal oil bunkering effort within the period led to increased oil production and reduction of oil loses in 2020 when compared with previous years. Notably, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing operational successes recorded by the NN were reflected in reduction of losses by NNPC and her subsidiaries.
Within the 2020 period under review, the NN also made giant strides in its anti-smuggling operations. Although the NN has been involved in anti-smuggling ops, its effort has been redoubled due to closer collaboration with other stakeholders, sequel to the Federal Government’s launching of OP CALM WATERS and OP SWIFT RESPONSE.
During the temporary closure of both land and maritime borders, smugglers adopted different strategies to evade arrest but from January to December 20, the NN confiscated a total of 25,601 bags of foreign parboiled rice and arrested over 284 smugglers. Added to seizures between 2016 – 2019 a total of 77,680 bags of foreign rice seized from smugglers from 2016 – 2020. This is estimated at N1,553,600,000 at N20,000 per bag.
Within the same period, 140 tankers/ trucks and 404 vehicles involved in smuggling activities were also impounded. Sequel to the FG’s recent directive to open the nation’s borders, with stringent measures to prevent smuggling activities, the NN has directed her units and formations across the country having common maritime borders with other countries to employ more intelligence and sustain patrol effort in order to arrest perpetrators of smuggling activities and their sponsors.
Various NN operations in 2020 led to the arrest of a total of 593 vessels/trucks/barges/boats suspected of committing various infractions within the maritime domain. The breakdown include 87 vessels, 43 barges, 57 speed boats, 393 destroyed wooden boats, 13 trucks and 16 impounded vehicles.
Thirteen of these vessels are already forfeited to the FG while others are handed over to various prosecuting agencies for jurisdiction. The prosecution of maritime offences received a boost in 2020 following the enactment and application of the law on piracy and suppression of violent crimes at sea.
Joint Hinterland Operations
In line with its constitutional mandate, the NN had over the years supported various land-based operations in accordance with the NN Total Spectrum Maritime Strategy (TSMS). In the year 2020 the NN sustained support for various joint operations such as OP SWIFT RESPONSE, LAFIYA DOLE and SAFE HAVEN. Other joint operations with strong NN participation include OP DELTA SAFE, AWATSE and SAFE CORRIDOR.
To reinforce NN participation in the joint operation at the North East, the Naval Base Lake Chad (NBLC) was established in 2016 at Baga to secure the fringes of the Lake Chad in support of the collective effort of OP LAFIYA DOLE and to deny the insurgents unhindered access across the maritime islands. The NN performed this role creditably.
However, due to heavy terrorist activities within the Kukawa LGA in 2018, the base was eventually dislodged in December 2018 and had to relocate back to Maiduguri Metropolis where she continued to perform other specialist roles in support of the joint operations. In particular, within the period NBLC helped to develop Riverine assets of Republic of Chad and Cameroon under the auspices MNJTF. But after a vigorous After Battle Assessment of the operational theatre, plans are in top gear to reinsert the Base back to Baga with the support of DHQ, sister services and the Government of Borno State.
It is pertinent to state that fleet renewal is one of the critical pillars of SD 1 and 2 and the strategic objective is to develop the right mix of ships and air asset capability to effectively sustain NN presence across the spectrum of maritime area of interests. In 2020, NN made significant strides in the recapitalisation of her fleet with the support of the FG.
Under capital ships and Inshore Patrol Craft, one Hydrographic Survey Ship from OCEA SA launched and is expected to be delivered by
Apr 2021. In addition, five OCEA FPB were added to NN Fleet during the year under review. Furthermore, four x C-Falcon 17m Inshore Patrol Craft from OCEA SA are expected in Nigeria. The NN is also expecting four units of 17M Manta Boats by Messrs Suncraft, scheduled to arrive January 21 while MOD Emergency Procurement of two x 40m Fast Patrol Boat by Messrs DAMEN is also awaiting delivery.
In addition to the capital ships, 25 units
of 9.5m RHIBs and 15 units of 8.5m RHIBs Boats were constructed by Suncraft for the NN and are currently in NDL undergoing As & As before final acceptance. Also, 90 other boats are either expected for delivery or have been distributed to NN units.
The NN has taken delivery of 1 X AW 139 Helicopter from Messrs Leonardo Helicopter currently waiting commissioning in Lagos. The NN is also in the process of procuring a total of 14 UAVs to enhance response capability, through Messrs Epsilon in South Africa and CACTIC in China. These are expected to be delivered within the current year.
In retrospect, the NN in last six (counting 2021) years has acquired a total of 378 platforms of varying categories, including 172 RPBs, 114 RHIBs, two SDBs, 12 Manta Class/IPCs, three Whaler Boats, three Tug Boats and two barges. Other platforms acquired included 22 Fast Attack Boats, 14 UAVs, four Helicopters, 14 River Town Class, 12 House boats and four capital ships.
Infrastructural Development and Logistics
Under this administration, the navy in 2020 embarked on numerous infrastructural, administrative and welfare projects. Under infrastructural projects, over 90 construction and related projects were undertaken from January to December 2020 with over 80 per cent of these projects completed and others at various stages of completion.
A key infrastructural project is the reconstruction of Jetties at NSL Port Harcourt; Under Water Warfare School Ojo; NOP KOLUAMA and other FOBs which are at various stages of construction. Equally important are construction, paving and surfacing of access and internal roads in NN some NN Quarters in Abuja, Yenegoa and Calabar. The activation of JV between the NN and CSOIL for the construction of an integrated workshop at NNSY and provision of floating dock has further boosted NN infrastructural capacity to maintain her platforms.
Also, in a bid to adequately motivate its personnel for improved output, efforts were doubled in 2020 to provide decent accommodation, schools and other welfare projects. Over 31 housing units were initiated across the country, 20 of which have been completed and commissioned for use while others are under construction.
These include the fencing of the barracks and construction of the 163 metre drive way to ratings quarters at NNS LUGARD in Lokoja as well as the connection of the barracks to the national grid. Others include various units of accommodation for officers and ratings accommodation at Kubwa, Asokoro, Abuja and Navy Town Lagos.
Befitting institutional houses were also constructed for CBMs of operational commands while contract has been awarded for the construction of a 320 capacity auditorium for Naval War College in Calabar, Cross River State.
Procurement-wise, NN operations were sustained by the provision of adequate POL products and spares for the ships. Notably in 2020,
over 600,000,000 million litres of AGO were procured for NN sustained presence at sea. In addition, several spares such as generators, engines and other auxiliaries were procured to extend the life span and availability of NN vessels for operations.
Human Resource Development
In recognition of the requirement for fleet availability, the NN intensified specialised technical and operational manpower training. Of significance in 2020 is the sustained capacity building for personnel of Engineering, Medical and Hydrographic departments of the service.
Several NN medical personnel were released and sponsored for residency training in reputable institutions within and outside the country in addition to the medical diagnostic equipment training with their respective manufacturers in Germany. The NN also invested significantly in specialised technical manpower training with various OEMs abroad in its drive to ensure local maintenance and availability of ships for operations.
In anticipation of arrival and commissioning of the newly acquired NN Hydro Survey Vessel, NNS LANA, significant effort has been made in hydrographic capacity building for personnel that would man the state of the art equipment onboard the vessel.
Also, the navy is in the process of procuring UAVs to enhance her response capability. In this regard, it is pertinent to state that 20 NN personnel have been screened to be trained as UAV Pilots and the successful candidates will shortly commence their training.
In addition to these specialised trainings, in the year under review, 480 officers and over 1400 ratings are currently engaged in professional and academic training locally and abroad.
Research and Development
NN Research and Developmental efforts gained traction in 2020 with local construction and production of equipment that erstwhile are usually vendor driven and are sourced from manufacturers outside the country. In consolidation of the local shipbuilding efforts, indigenous construction of a 43m SDB III and 2 logistic supply vessels/houseboats at Naval Dockyard Limited and Naval Shipyard Limited respectively are progressing steadily.
These vessels are programmed to join the service by first quarter of 2021. Importantly, about 170 riverine patrol boats were built in-country, thus complementing indigenous shipbuilding capacity, employment generation and skills acquisition.
Undoubtedly, the NN recorded successes in fleet renewal, infrastructural development, training and R & D towards a secure maritime environment for enhanced national prosperity, within the period under review and these would not have been possible without the support of President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, notwithstanding these achievements, the navy is still faced with some challenges which include inadequate platforms( although the FG has begun fleet recapitalisation), weak legislative and legal refines, difficult operating environment in the backwaters and inadequate funding.
Notwithstanding, while all these acquisitions and operations have contributed in enhancing maritime security within the NME with attendant economic gains, it is imperative to sustain or heighten these measures in order to optimise the potentials in the maritime domain.