Deep Blue Project: Countdown to Maritime’s Big Event

Events have increased in tempo on a positive note ahead of the launch of Nigeria’s comprehensive maritime security strategy, writes Vincent Obia

The assets acquisition and installation phase of the Deep Blue Project moved towards completion on Wednesday with the delivery of one of the two Special Mission Aircraft for the project. The Cessna CJ3 Citation jet for maritime surveillance was received in Lagos ahead of the scheduled launch of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure – commonly called the Deep Blue Project – on May 21.

The arrival of the aircraft at the Nigerian Air Force Base, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, marked a great moment in Nigeria’s maritime security history. Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, captured the moment in a brief interview with journalists.

“This is a historical moment in the course of our national development, especially as we move towards diversification of our economy with maritime playing a strategic role,” Jamoh said. “The arrival of the Special Mission Aircraft happened amid a positively changing maritime security narrative in Nigeria, and we have no doubt that with this additional capacity to control our maritime domain, things would get even better.”
Nigeria has in recent times witnessed a significant drop in attacks in its waters. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the global focal point in the fight against maritime crimes and malpractices, recorded only two incidents in Nigerian waters between January and March this year in the latest quarterly report of piracy and armed robbery against ships. This was against 11 attacks within the same period last year, 14 in 2019, and 22 incidents in 2018.

The Nigerian maritime domain and the Gulf of Guinea had seen spikes in piracy and armed robbery at sea. But since the deployment of assets under the Deep Blue Project began about two years ago, there have been drops in such security breaches. IMB reported a decline in piracy attacks in Nigeria in the third quarter of 2019, saying in its report, “Nigeria has reduced Q3 piracy attacks from 41 in 2018 to 29 in 2019.” This represented nearly 30 per cent year-on-year reduction.

As the countdown to the launch of the Deep Blue Project gathers momentum, the reduction in maritime security violations comes into sharper focus.
“The message is loud and clear; those who have sworn to make our maritime domain insecure will not have a free rein to do what they want,” said Jamoh.

Nigeria is investing much of its maritime safety and security hopes in the Deep Blue Project. Initiated by the Federal Ministry of Transportation and Federal Ministry of Defence, it is being implemented by NIMASA, with participation from the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police, and Department of State Services.

The Deep Blue Project aims to prevent illegal activities in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), enforce maritime regulations, enhance safety of lives at sea, and prevent illegal activities in the inland waterways. In February, the Federal Government added the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA), off the coast of Lagos, to the areas under the protection of the Deep Blue Project.

The project is designed with three categories of platforms to tackle maritime security issues on land, sea, and air. The land assets comprise the Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence Centre (C4i) for intelligence gathering and data collection; 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol; and about 600 specially trained troops for interdiction, known as Maritime Security Unit. On air, there are two Special Mission Aircraft for surveillance of the EEZ, one of which was received May 12, with the second expected to arrive soon; three Special Mission Helicopters for search and rescue; and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The sea assets consist of two Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats.

All the assets have been delivered, except one Special Mission Aircraft.
The Deep Blue Project assets would be deployed to prevent pipeline vandalism, oil theft, illegal bunkering, arms smuggling, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and illegal fishing. They would also be deployed for pollution prevention and control in the Nigerian maritime environment.
The project is in line with the country’s total spectrum maritime security strategy, anchored on four pillars, namely, situational awareness, response capability, law enforcement and local partnerships, and regional cooperation.

The C4i Centre, with the primary aim of providing maritime domain awareness intelligence for informed enforcement operations and maritime safety and security interventions, has been up and running since August 2019. As the nucleus of the scheme, the C4i centre would be integrated with all the air, sea, and land platforms of the Deep Blue Project.

NIMASA has promoted coordination and information sharing between the C4i and the surveillance systems of other maritime agencies, including Nigerian Navy’s Falcon Eye, Nigeria Police’s i247, and the C3i, which belongs to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

To improve the spirit, character, and verve of maritime law enforcement in the search for security, the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act 2019 was enacted. The SPOMO Act, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2019, is the country’s first standalone instrument for the criminalisation and prosecution of piracy and other sea infractions, and the first standalone antipiracy law in West and Central Africa. It fulfils a critical international requirement for standalone legislation on piracy.

The SPOMO Act 2019 aims to “prevent and suppress piracy, armed robbery, and any other unlawful act against a ship, aircraft, and any other maritime craft, however propelled, including fixed or floating platform.” It provides a legal framework for the prosecution of piracy and other maritime crimes through the country’s Maritime Administration, NIMASA, and the Nigerian Navy.

The Act gives effect to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA), 1988, and its Protocols.

NIMASA has intensified cooperation with international bodies, such as International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO) and International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO), to ensure security in the Gulf of Guinea, with the Yaoundé-based International Coordination Centre (ICC) playing a central role.

Nigeria and the Inter Regional Coordination Centre (ICC) Yaoundé have pioneered efforts to galvanise regional and international efforts for security in the Gulf of Guinea (GOG). They recently floated the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum (GOG-MCF/SHADE) following discussions between the Director General of NIMASA, representing Nigeria, and Executive Director of ICC Yaoundé, Admiral Narciso Fastudo Jr.
A joint statement by NIMASA, Nigerian Navy, and ICC Yaoundé said GOG-MCF/SHADE, purposed to facilitate shared awareness and deconfliction of activities in the Gulf of Guinea, “will be open to all GOG countries with similar capacities to join on a voluntary basis.”

The statement dated April 26, 2021 said, “GOG-MCF/SHADE will focus on counter-piracy and armed robbery by bringing together regional, international, industry and NGO partners to advance and coordinate near term maritime activities with a view to working toward a set of common operational objectives in order to protect seafarers and ships operating off the coast of West and Central Africa.”

The Deep Blue Project highlights a new determination by Nigeria to ensure security in its waters and the Gulf of Guinea. The country has put a lot of hope in the project due for unveiling on May 21. Jamoh says, “We are confident the project would deliver our desires in terms of security in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
“We would not disappoint the hopes now being awakened.”

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