Despite the recent incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea waters, the Nigerian Navy has been able to sustain presence of her capital ships at sea while employing her surveillance infrastructure to monitor shipping activities within its waters, thus maintaining the sanctity of the Nigerian Maritime Environment in the past 14 months. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports that the navy’s effort in countering piracy and mitigating threats has boosted the overall socio-economic development of the nation
“The spate of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) within the last 10 years reduced to an all time low in 2022. While concerted efforts are being made to reduce piracy within the GoG to its lowest minimum, two unfortunate incidences were recorded within the GoG in the last three (sic…four) weeks.”
The above statement was issued in a recent press release by the Naval Director of Information (DINFO), Commodore AO Ayo Vaughan in reaction to the recent two piracy cases recorded in the GoG waters.
According to the release, the first incident which involved the hijack of Motor Tanker (MT) MONJASA REFORMER occurred on March 25, 2023 at a location144 nautical mile (nm) West-South-West (WSW) of Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo and it was later discovered that the pirates abducted six crew members from the vessel.
The second incident on the other hand involved the hijack of MT SUCCESS-9 about 306 nm SW of Abidjan Fairway Buoy (FWB), Cote d’Ivoire on April 10 2023.
According to Vaughan, “It is pertinent to state that the NN vectored Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) GONGOLA to rendezvous MT MONJASA REFORMER in company of NNS KANO and a French Warship to escort the vessel to Lome, Togo.”
Nigeria’s Rich Maritime Domain
By all parameters, Nigeria is blessed in rich resources that should enable it thrive unhindered. Mineral resources such as manganese nodules, gold, iron, and copper, among several others, abound.
Beyond these, a close look at Nigeria’s maritime domain lies the treasures of the oil and gas. These rich hydrocarbon deposits with proven oil reserves of about 37.2 billion barrels represents 2.9 per cent of total global oil reserves and the revenue accrued from this sector account for about 85 per cent of government revenues and largely from export earnings.
Meanwhile, according to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea, Nigeria’s sovereignty lays claim to 12 nautical miles (NM) of Territorial Seas and 200 nm of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Its coastline on the other hand is 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 EEZ. But in real time, the nation’s maritime interest covers the entire maritime area of the Gulf of Guinea (GoG), stretching from Dakar in Senegal to Luanda in Angola. Essentially, 1,500 commercial vessels either transit or visit ports in the GoG daily.
Broad Range Maritime Threats
However, despite 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.
Given the diverse threats, it became expedient that the NN mapped out evolving strategies to counter them.
Sustained Presence at Sea in NME
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.
Despite the two attacks on the GoG waters, it is pertinent to state nothing of such has occured in Nigerian waters in the past 14 months, little wonder why Nigeria was delisted from list of piracy- prone countries as conveyed in the International Maritime Bureau report of March 3, 2022.
Prior to this, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Global Piracy Report of July 14, 2021, indicated that this is the lowest total of piracy and sea robbery against ships in 27 years. This report was corroborated by the Defence Web maritime security report of October 15, 2021 which noted further decline in reported cases of piracy and armed attacks against shipping.
According to Vaughan, the NME continues to remain safe for maritime and economic activities, adding that the NN would continue to sustain credible presence at sea with its capital ships to deter any form of criminality. To sustain this, he said the operational bases have been directed to enhance efforts to dominate their Areas of Operations.
The DINFO said the NN has equally continued to employ her surveillance infrastructure to monitor shipping activities within the nation’s maritime environment and will continue to exploit intelligence to track activities of criminals in order to maintain sanctity of the Nigerian Maritime Environment (NME).
“To this end, the NN enjoins all seafarers to continue to carry out their legitimate businesses without fear,” he added.
For those in the know, the sustained record by the Nigerian Navy was buoyed by the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo (CFR), who has been untiring towards propelling the Nigerian Navy to the next level of operational efficiency.
Always acknowledging the rich vastness of Nigeria’s resources, the CNS is often wont to say 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.
These, he said, are compelling reasons for the Nigerian Navy to adopt a robust operations concept for economic prosperity of Nigeria and by extension, the continent.
And by robust, he means the several naval platforms deployed to sustain presence at sea alongside the Maritime domain awareness infrastructure that gives results in real time. In terms of platforms, in the past seven years, the NN has procured 415 naval platforms of various classifications, including one landing ship tank and air platforms such as AW 139 Leonardo and A109SP helicopters as well as unmanned aerial vehicles.
They are also expected to take delivery of two by 76m Endurance Offshore Patrol vessels, two by 28m Fast Patrol Craft, and 40 by 9m Fast Patrol Boats and 80 Flat bottom Boats, as well as three new helicopters and four type EP 55 drones.
Multi-layered Total Spectrum Maritime Strategy
The Nigerian Navy over the years has been focused on capacity development in order to improve maritime security in Nigerian waters, and the GoG.
Therefore, to combat the threats in Nigeria’s maritime domain, the NN adopted the Total Spectrum Maritime Strategy (TSMS) to guide its operational engagements.
This concept of operations is based on a proactive layered response to five conflict spectrums characterised by distances to and from the coast.
The three operations commands of the NN are organised to carry out maritime security functions as required by the strategy. This is backed by the NN fleet, an array of sea and air platforms which is regularly rejuvenated in order to achieve a balanced mix of capabilities to meet threats amongst other commitments in the GoG region.
According to Vice Admiral Gambo, at a recent fora by Security Watch Africa Conference in The Gambia, the NN conceptualised the TSMS to project naval power over a wide range of threats, adding that the objectives 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.
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.
Essentially, the 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.
In terms of 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,” he added.
Noting that response capability is crucial, Vice Admiral Gambo stressed that 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 last and perhaps the most important aspect of that spectrum is the law enforcement part. Unlike in the past where most of these pirates are released back into the society because of some lapses, the enactment of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2019 has actually done some wonders in the fight against piracy.
This legal framework has fostered Nigerian Navy’s collaboration with Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies to criminalise and prosecute maritime offenders and the law was recently tested with the conviction and sentencing of 10 pirates to 12 years imprisonment in July 2021.
Operation TSARE TEKU: Ensuring Zero Piracy on Nigerian Waters
The Nigerian Navy has different operations and exercises geared towards tackling different maritime crimes but when it comes to anti-piracy, Operation TSARE TEKU was tailored towards creating a safe and more secure maritime space for commerce to thrive.
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.
Over the years, Operation TSARE TEKU have been effective in discharging its key derivatives by maintaining 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.
For the navy, its successes are worth boasting about given that since 2021, there has been a steady decline of piracy operations in its waters. In 2021, piracy operations dropped from 44 recorded in 2020 to 11 in GoG waters where it patrols.
On the NME, 11 piracy and three sea robbery operations were recorded in 2021 compared to 22 pirate incidents and 16 sea robberies in 2020. For those in the know, this was a huge step in the decline of piracy in the region.
Confirming this, the International Maritime Bureau Global Piracy Report of 14 July 2021, indicated that “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”.
Undoubtedly, these eventually led to delisting Nigeria from list of piracy prone countries as conveyed in the International Maritime Bureau report of March 3, 2022.
Creditably, the Nigerian Navy has been able to sustain this feat as no pirate attack has been recorded thus far, and that was certainly not for lack of trying on the part of the pirates.
Sustaining the Momentum andRole of Collaborations
To be sure, the navy understands that the momentum can only be sustained through collaborations because no nation has proven itself completely capable of addressing maritime crimes alone, particularly piracy and terrorism.
For the NN, its active involvement in regional maritime security collaborative engagements under the auspices of the 2013 Yaoundé Code of Conduct, prioritises cooperation and information sharing between navies of Economic Community of West African States and Economic Community of Central African States.
Already, there is a Memorandum of Understanding for combined patrols of the common maritime domain between
navies of ECOWAS Zone ‘E’ which comprise Benin Republic, Nigeria, Togo and the Gendarmeries of Niger Republic.
But beyond this, the NN deploys permanent representation to the Multi-national Maritime Coordination Centre in Benin Republic as well as a Rear Admiral to the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Maritime Security in Abidjan – Cote ‘d Ivoire.
Most importantly, member states of the African Union, in line with the AU Peace and Security Council Communique 1012 of June 23, 2021, are set to establish regional maritime task forces to combat maritime crimes within Africa’s waters, of which the NN is galvanising heads of GoG navies and coast guards.
To this end, a working document named ‘Port Harcourt Document” developed during the last International Maritime Conference is currently being considered as a roadmap for the operationalisation of the GoG Task Force.
Not done, the NN also designated two vessels and one helicopter for deployment to support ECOWAS Standby Force. But beyond this, it also established a Maritime Crime Investigation Desk manned by trained personnel to ensure they maintain credible intelligence on piracy and other related crimes as appropriate.
Essentially, these collaborations also help with comparing and sharing information and have further enhanced deterrence through sustained presence and seamless arrests of maritime criminals.
Therefore, since Nigeria’s economic prosperity is inextricably linked to a safe and secure maritime domain, it is pertinent to engender sustainable presence at sea to maintain the sanctity of the Nigerian Maritime Environment, as is being enjoyed at the moment.
The Nigerian Navy has equally continued to employ her surveillance infrastructure to monitor shipping activities within the nation’s maritime environment and will continue to exploit intelligence to track activities of criminals in order to maintain sanctity of the Nigerian Maritime Environment
Over the years, Operation TSARE TEKU have been effective in discharging its key derivatives by maintaining 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