Renewed Strategy to Counter Piracy in Africa’s Maritime Domain 

The 17th Africa Security Watch Awards, Conference and Exhibition, which recently held in The Gambia, reinforced the Nigerian Navy’s efforts in countering piracy and mitigating threats in its maritime domain for the overall socio-economic development of the nation and the continent at large. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports that it was also an opportunity to renew strategy to further mitigate and tackle  insecurity across the continent 

Nigeria as a nation lays sovereign claim to 12 nautical miles (NM) of Territorial Seas and 200 nm of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  This is according to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea. 

Meanwhile, with its coastline of about 420 nm (778km), which translates into about 5,040 square (sq) nm (272 km) of sovereign territory and 84,000 sq nm (4,528,000km) of Exclusive Economic Zone over, Nigeria has sovereign rights to all living and non-living resources. 

The Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo (CFR), reiterated this at the recently held 17th Africa Security Watch Awards, Conference and Exhibition. 

Held at the Gambia, the CNS whose lecture was on “Countering Piracy in African Waters:  The Nigerian Navy Experience”, regaled the audience on what the navy under his watch has achieved and how they were able to do that.  

The three-day event brought together critical stakeholders, security experts and senior representatives from public and private sectors in the continent to elucidate renewed strategy to further mitigate and tackle insecurity towards making our communities and waterways safe.  

Nigeria’s Maritime Domain 

Although its maritime area occupies about one-third of Nigeria’s land mass, its maritime interest on the other hand, goes beyond her EEZ as a result of geo-strategic imperatives, which have shaped the foreign and defence policy objectives covering the entire maritime area of the Gulf of Guinea GoG, extending from Dakar in Senegal to Luanda in Angola.

In real time, this area covers approximately 574,800sq nm (30,984,039km) with a total coastline of about 2,874nm (5,322.7km), boasting of about 1,500 commercial vessels either transiting or visiting ports in the Gulf of Guinea daily.

Rich Resources 

Fortunately, the nation’s maritime environment is also rich in hydrocarbon deposits with proven oil reserves of about 37.2 billion barrels representing 2.9 per cent of total global oil reserves.  And when taken into account, the oil companies operate in excess of 5,779 wells, 9,717km of pipelines, 112 flow stations, 16 gas plants and 126 production platforms offshore. 

Revenue from this sector account for about 85 per cent of government revenues and largely from export earnings.  Besides oil and gas, other mineral resources such as manganese nodules, copper as well as fishery resources abound.

Relevance to Economic Development 

Given that over 60 per cent of Nigeria’s external trade both in terms of volume and value are transported by sea, the safe passage of these ships as well as the goods further constitutes vital maritime interests.  

According to the CNS, this essentially means that any impediment in Nigeria’s maritime environment would have undesirable consequences on the nation’s economic survival including Gulf of Guinea nations and by implication the entire African continent. 

He stressed that these are compelling reasons for the Nigerian Navy to adopt a robust operations concept for economic prosperity of Nigeria and by extension, the continent.

He said: “the strategic relevance of the maritime environment to economic development of nations has been constant throughout history.  This is considering the fact that resources within the maritime domain are vast and vital to the well-being of nations contiguous to the sea. Hence the need to adequately protect the sea for prosperity.”

Quoting Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, former Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy who said,the strength of a maritime state is the capacity to place all the resources and possibilities offered by the ocean at the service of its people and make full use of them to develop the economy, the wealth of which finally determines all facets of the country, including its defence capabilities“, the CNS posited that the peculiar place of the seas is further underscored by the fact that over 70 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered by the oceans, through which over 90 per cent of world trade is carried out translating to roughly 14 trillion United States Dollars of global annual commerce and supporting about 1.6 million seafarers globally.   

“Pertinently, the evolving era of globalisation and technological advances, ushered in unprecedented growth in the maritime sector in terms of geo-strategic and economic values,” he added.

Threat by Non-state Actors

However, depsite the gifts the sea brings to mankind, the emergence of broad range of threats from non-state actors have been a clog in the wheel of progress. 

From terrorism to piracy and Crude Oil Theft, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF) as well as proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons, in addition to the growing concern of cyber security in the maritime domain due to growing attacks on ships’ networks, communication and navigation systems create a new dimension of threat to maritime activities, indeed Nigeria is not an exception. 

Evolving Strategies

With these diverse threats, it became pertinent that the NN maps out evolving strategies to counter it. The CNS believes in this thought process.

According to him, the Nigerian Navy evolved new strategies in the conduct of its operations, which positioned the Service to mitigate maritime threats particularly piracy within the nation’s maritime domain and the Gulf of Guinea.  

According to Gambo, the Nigerian Navy conceptualised a multi-layered Total Spectrum Maritime Strategy to project naval power over a wide range of threats.  

“Objectives of the strategy are to deliver operations effects of Secure, Deter and Strike against internal spoilers, non-state actors and external aggressors through emplacement of a credible balanced fleet capable of an offensive-defensive posture,” he said.

Giving further breakdown of this spectrum, he said the strategy is based on proactive layered responses across five spectrums namely: Backwaters Operation, Territorial Waters, Exclusive Economic Zone, Out of Area Operations and Land Operations.  

He said: “This strategy is approached through a mutually reinforcing Trinity-of-action with emphasis on maritime surveillance, response capabilities and enforcement of the nation’s maritime laws.”

Maritime Surveillance

On maritime surveillance, he said it entails deployment of Maritime Domain Awareness infrastructure, which include the Falcon Eye Alignment and Regional Maritime Awareness Capability. 

“These systems serve as veritable force multiplier, ensuring that Nigerian Navy patrols are intelligence driven, cost effective and result oriented. The facilities also enable monitoring real time activities of vessels in order to identify those involved in illegitimate activities. 

“Following the historic tracking and arrest of hijackers of a tanker MT MAXIMUS at the fringes of Sao Tome and Principe in 2016, the Nigerian Navy has continued to achieve successes using the Maritime Domain Awareness facility.  

“The Falcon Eye Alignment was instrumental to the arrest of 2 merchant vessels MV CHAYANEE NAREE and MV KARTERIA in October 2021. These vessels were tracked and diligently monitored from ports of departure in Brazil following reports that they were involved in smuggling 32.9 kg and 13.65kg respectively of Cocaine into Nigeria.  

“The system has also detected a number of vessels attempting to load crude oil and Liquified Natural Gas at offshore terminals without necessary documentation and approval from relevant authorities. 

” The latest is HEROIC IDUN’, a super tanker of about 336m long with a capacity of about 3 million barrels, which was intercepted on 7 August 2022, while attempting to load crude oil at Akpo Oil Field, offshore Bonny without approval.  

“The vessel refused to respond to instructions from a Nigerian Navy ship that was vectored to prevent her from loading.  Motor Tanker HEROIC IDUN subsequently proceeded towards the Nigeria – Sao Tome Joint Development Zone and raised a false piracy incident indicative of her encounter with the Nigerian Navy ship.  

“The ship was eventually arrested on 10 August 2022 at Equatorial Guinea, through activation of collective arrangements of the Nigerian Navy under Yaoundé Code of Conduct.”

Giving an update on the state of the vessel, Vice Admiral Gambo said the Nigerian Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria, signed the document to take over MT HEROIC IDUN on November 5, 2022.

Already, Nigerian Navy ships are positioned to escort the vessel to Nigeria. The Chief added that although the crew are coming up with excuses of technical faults and ill health of the captain, these will not deter repatriation of the vessel.  

Response Capacity

Expectedly, an appropriate response capability with the right mix of ships and air assets for interdiction operations to interrogate Vessels of Interest and subsequently board, Search and Seize or effect arrest is expedient to adequately tackle piracy, sea robbery, resource theft and other emerging threats within the Nigerian maritime domain, the CNS posited.

Specifically, he said, is the successful boarding by the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service operatives of hijacked Portuguese vessel MV TOMMI RITSCHER and rescue of 11 crew from pirates within the Gulf of Guinea some months back.  

“Similarly, MV          HAILUFANG II, a Chinese fishing vessel was effectively boarded by the Nigerian Navy to dislodge pirates, who had taken over the vessel and heading towards an unknown destination.  The coordinated operation led to the timely rescue     of 18 crew and arrest of 10 pirates,” he added.

 Law Enforcement

 According to Gambo, Law Enforcement is the last aspect of NN’s Trinity-of-action needed to secure the nation’s maritime domain. 

He posited that the process of Law Enforcement goes beyond arrests and prosecution, as it includes collaboration with other stakeholders and global partners.  

“The enactment of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2019 is instructive. The legal framework has fostered Nigerian Navy’s collaboration with Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies to criminalise and prosecute maritime offenders. 

“Notable conviction is the case where 10 pirates were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in July 2021.  These collaborative efforts further refined approaches adopted towards curbing maritime threats,” he added.Anti- Piracy Operations

For the Nigerian Navy, its  approaches to maritime security operations cut across the five spectrums of the Maritime Strategy including anti-piracy, anti-crude oil theft operations and others.

When it comes to anti-piracy, the NN operations was geared towards creating a safe and more secure maritime space for commerce to thrive.  

According to the CNS, Operation TSARE TEKU, is a dedicated naval operation activated in April 2016 to contain threats of piracy and related attacks on shipping as well as Oil and Gas Installations.  

“The operation, which has been effective, requires maintenance of credible presence in identified piracy prone areas at sea and supported by aggressive patrols of the Nigeria’s maritime domain to curb piracy and other maritime crimes.   

“It is noteworthy to state that 11 piracy incidents were recorded in 2021 within the Gulf of Guinea compared to 44 in 2020.  Similarly, there was a decline in pirates attacks and sea robbery in Nigeria’s water where the country reported only 11 pirate incidents and threesea robberies in 2021, compared to 22 pirate incidents and 16 sea robberies in 2020.

“Notably, Operations TSARE TEKU resulted in steep decline in piracy in the region. This was attested to by the International Maritime Bureau Global Piracy Report of 14 July 2021, which indicated “the lowest total of piracy and sea robbery against ships in 27 years”.

This report was corroborated by the Defence Web, which noted “further decline in reported cases of piracy and armed attacks against shipping”.  

“These eventually led to delisting Nigeria from list of piracy prone countries as conveyed in the International Maritime Bureau report of 3 Mar 22.  I am pleased to inform you that this achievement has been sustained as no pirate attack has been recorded this year.”Anti-crude Oil Theft Operations

On this, the CNS said  successes recorded in anti-piracy efforts was envisaged that it would lead to increase in crude oil theft, illegal oil refining and pipeline vandalism.

  Accordingly, he said the Nigerian Navy strategised and activated Operation DAKATAR DA BARAWO (meaning “Stop the Thief” in Hausa Language) on  April 1, 22.  

The anti-crude oil theft operation is further enhanced by the Choke Point Management and Control Regime involving deployment of armed personnel in Houseboats positioned at strategic river entrances and estuaries within the creeks. 

Giving a review of the operation in seven months in which it recorded some successes including the arrest of eight vessels, 117 suspects and deactivation of 302 illegal refining sites.  

Equally, he disclosed that the NN denied oil thieves 25,490,670 Litres of illegally refined AGO, 53,258,343 Litres (335,000 bbls) of crude oil and 1,386,000 Litres of DPK.  

“These products are worth over N50billion. This feat, already being applauded, would be sustained,” he added.  Collaborative Efforts

Undoubtedly, collaboration is necessary considering that no country has proven itself completely capable of addressing maritime crimes alone, particularly piracy and terrorism.  

Consequently, the CNS said the Nigerian Navy is actively involved in regional maritime security collaborative engagements under the auspices of the 2013 Yaoundé Code of Conduct, which prioritises cooperation and information sharing between navies of Economic Community of West African States and Economic Community of Central African States.  

To this end, he said the navies of ECOWAS Zone ‘E’, endorsed a Memorandum of Understanding for combined patrols of the common maritime domain.  

“Members of Zone E comprise Benin Republic, Nigeria, Togo and the Gendarmeries of Niger Republic.   In addition, the Nigerian Navy has sustained permanent representation with the deployment of naval personnel to the Multi-national Maritime Coordination Centre in Benin Republic as well as deployment of a Rear Admiral to the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Maritime Security in Abidjan – Cote ‘d Ivoire. 

“Furthermore, in furtherance of African Union Peace and Security Council Communique 1012 of 23 June 2021, which authorised member states to establish regional maritime task forces to combat maritime crimes within Africa’s waters, the Nigerian Navy is galvanising heads of Gulf of Guinea navies and coast guards towards the establishment of a Combined Maritime Task Force for stability in the Gulf of Guinea.   

“Accordingly, a working document named ‘Port Harcourt Document” was developed during the last International Maritime Conference held in May this year, hosted by the Nigerian Navy in Rivers State.  The document is currently being considered as a roadmap for the operationalisation of the Gulf of Guinea Task Force.  

“In addition, the Nigerian Navy has designated two vessels and one helicopter for deployment to support ECOWAS Standby Force.   These will no doubt enhance a more secure maritime space in Africa,” he said. 

Similarly, at the international level, he disclosed that the Nigerian Navy collaborates with International police especially in gathering information for actionable intelligence towards combating piracy and other crimes within the nation’s maritime domain and beyond. 

“In this regard, some Nigerian Navy personnel have undergone different levels of training with the International Police both within and outside Nigeria. 

” It is based on the foregoing that the Nigerian Navy established a Maritime Crime Investigation Desk manned by trained personnel to ensure the NN maintains credible intelligence on piracy and other related crimes as appropriate.  

“This led to the acquisition of Seek Avenger Biometric System capable of capturing biometric data of maritime criminals as well as compare and share such information with the International Police database.  

” In addition, the Nigerian Navy collaborates with the European Union via the European Union Strategy and Action Plan for the Gulf of Guinea to address maritime challenges and transnational organized crimes in West and Central Africa.  

” Also, under the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum Shared Awareness and Deconfliction, the Nigerian Navy collaborates with ships from European Union navies through the European Union-Coordinated Maritime Presence and other navies to patrol the Gulf of Guinea towards addressing security challenges.”

Noting that these have improved presence of naval ships within the Gulf of Guinea, he said this year, the NN has participated in joint training exercises with at least 12 navies namely Benin and Brazilian navies.  

These collaborations, he noted, further enhanced deterrence through sustained presence and seamless arrests of maritime criminals. 

Pledge to Sustain Momentum

Stressing that Nigeria’s economic prosperity is inextricably linked to a safe and secure maritime domain, Vice Admiral Gambo, noted that it was therefore pertinent to engender sustainable exploitation and exploration of the nation’s Blue Economy potentials.

Also pledging to sustain this momentum for the wellbeing of Nigerians and economic prosperity of our great nation, Vice Admiral Gambo reiterated that all that was achieved was made possible because the Nigerian Navy under his watch initiated strategies to address maritime insecurity in the nation’s maritime space and by extension the Gulf of Guinea. 


Any impediment in Nigeria’s maritime environment would have undesirable consequences on the nation’s economic survival including Gulf of Guinea nations and by implication the entire African continent

Notably, Operations TSARE TEKU resulted in steep decline in piracy in the region. This eventually led to delisting Nigeria from list of piracy prone countries as conveyed in the International Maritime Bureau report of March 3, 2022.  I am pleased to inform you that this achievement has been sustained as no pirate attack has been recorded this year

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