SANITY IN THE GULF OF GUINEA 

 The Nigerian Navy and NIMASA deserve commendation for making our waters safe

Reports that the Gulf of Guinea recorded only three acts of piracy against ships in 2022 while the number of kidnappings in the area dropped to two from 146 in 2019 are gratifying. According to the Maritime Information Cooperation and Awareness Center (MICA), a France-based branch of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), worldwide acts of piracy fell to their lowest level last year since statistics were first established in 2008. “It’s never been lower,” MICA’s commander Eric Jaslin stated but warned, “You never know what tomorrow may bring in terms of piracy. We advise continued caution.”  

Established in 2016, the MICA Center identifies and analyses situations and incidents affecting maritime navigation throughout the world to warn crews and shipowners of impending dangers. Meanwhile, when in the first quarter of 2019 Nigeria experienced a decrease in reported piracy incidents, the IMB alluded the development to increased efforts by Nigerian Navy to “actively respond to reported incidents by dispatching patrol boats”. Although the MICA report did not identify the reason for current development, we believe that the Navy, working in conjunction with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), can also take the credit. But it should compel them to work harder in tackling the challenge while heeding the admonition for “continued caution.” 

For years, the Gulf of Guinea has acquired a notorious reputation with regular pirate attacks on merchant and fishing vessels. For instance, the 2021 report by the International Chamber of Commerce’s IMB revealed that over 95 per cent of the 135 shipping crew members kidnapped the previous year were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea and mostly on Nigerian waters. “Incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous, as over 80 per cent of attackers were armed with guns,” the IMB had stated. “The absence of an effective maritime governance system, in particular, hampers freedom of movement in the region, disrupts trade and economic growth, and facilitates environmental crimes,” according to the United Nations (UN) Security Council which once disclosed that Nigeria was losing about $1.5 billion a month due to piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling and fuel supply fraud in the Gulf of Guinea.  

At the height of the menace, ship owners and crew members often demanded for high insurance premium before embarking on any voyage to Nigeria. Apart from reducing the number of vessels calling at the nation’s seaports due to the fear of attack, it helped in no small measure to increase the cost of doing business in Nigeria. The huge costs are eventually passed off in the cost of freight to the final consumer. 

It is against the foregoing background that we commend the Navy and NIMASA. We also enjoin them to do more to make our waters safe and rid our country of what has become another emblem of shame. The root causes of piracy in the region, according to experts, are ineffective governance structures, weak rule of law, precarious legal frameworks and inadequate naval, coast guard, and maritime law enforcement. Yet, piracy drives fear into shipping practitioners, especially ship captains and master mariners.  

While there is unanimity among shipping practitioners that sea piracy cannot be totally eradicated, it is also a fact that with concerted efforts by all relevant stakeholders, the menace can effectively be contained in our country. In addressing the challenge, NIMASA authorities have consistently argued that a legal framework that prescribes stiffer sanctions, a more vigorous and vigilant military-led patrol and better intelligence gathering network would be required. Now that their efforts are yielding dividends, the federal government must work to ensure that the Nigerian territorial waters do not continue to harbour dangerous criminals. 

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