Deep Blue Project as Catalyst to Nigeria’s Maritime Development

Kumuyi Oluwafemi

Activities in the seas and oceans is a growing concern for the global community, as it serves as a veritable source of economic development and wealth creation, owing to the numerous resources embedded therein, thereby necessitating the need to ensure the sustainable use of these resources for nature and humanity. 

Undoubtedly, the seas and oceans facilitate over 80 per cent of global trade, as proven by researchers in maritime studies. This underscores the need for conscious efforts by humanity to preserve them for posterity. Stakeholders across the globe are making deliberate efforts to ensure the sustainable use and harnessing of opportunities in the seas and the oceans for the benefit of nature and humanity.

Furthermore, research indicates that ocean resources, with their increasing economic capabilities are projected to double their contribution to the global economy from US$1.5 trillion in 2010 to US$3 trillion by 2030. Based on this premise, various governments and corporate entities worldwide are making intentional efforts to utilise the investments derived from the oceans, including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, bioprospecting, seabed mining, oil and gas, renewable energy, and shipping, all culminating into the Blue Economy concept.

The Blue Economy concept has reached the height of global acceptability, continuing to take centre stage in global discourse. This aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), aimed at tackling poverty, hunger, and other challenges outlined in the 17 Goals.

Ultimately, the maritime sector has huge roles to play in the actualisation of the UNSDGs, as the Blue Economy mantra remains a beacon of hope to the world at large, as the oceans have remained a driver for economic development, job creation and wealth creation. It aims to utilise ocean resources sustainably to foster development opportunities in the Exclusive Economic Zones of coastal nations globally.

Researchers have described the blue economy concept as the approach of actualising long-term prosperity by a region or a country towards the citizens’ overall well-being and humanity in general.

Meanwhile, these ecosystems face several challenges including overexploitation of resources, human activities, and other issues that threaten the sustainable use of the resources found in the seas and the oceans. This does not exclude discussions on climate change issues, which are also a growing concern for many organisations; including the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and its member states as they strive to harness the full potential of the Blue Economy. All these efforts have led to the drafting of integrated strategies and frameworks aimed at achieving continental, regional and national prosperity, as well promoting wealth creation through the sustainable use of the seas and the oceans.

Aware of the massive opportunities in the Nigeria seas and oceans and the need to ensure a diversified economy, the Nigerian Federal Government adopted a multipronged approach to utilizing the resources in the region, known as the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure Project, also known as the Deep Blue Project. The aim of the Deep Blue Project is to secure Nigeria’s territorial waters from all forms of illegalities, including piracy, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, and overfishing, among others. The overall goal is to promote increased shipping activities and encourage investor participation, thereby attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) to the country.

Interestingly, Nigeria has a vast coastline of about 853 kilometres, in addition to about 3,000 kilometres of navigable inland waterways. This demonstrates the enormous resources the country posseses; hence the need to preserve the oceans for economic development. Therefore, the concept of the Deep Blue Project is to ensure that a holistic approach is taken to prevent all forms of illegalities on the Nigerian territorial waters. Enforcement, regional cooperation, the building of a swift response capability and robust maritime domain awareness are among the key initiatives of the Deep Blue Project. These efforts  have continued to yield positive results, as evidenced by Nigeria’s removal from the global piracy list and ongoing discussions to exclude Nigeria from War Risk Insurance countries.

The initiative comprises a Command, Control, Communication, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) Operation Centre operated by trained military and civilian personnel. Their training includes physical techniques as well as the use of technology to tackle maritime crimes in the nation’s territorial waters. The Centre, domiciled within the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in Lagos, consists of a maritime intelligence system designed to ensure data authenticity while creating a reliable global maritime picture to understand the “patterns of life” of vessels and reveal risk indicators. The system, programmed to detect criminal activities, also provides early warnings on emerging threats in Nigerian waters, enabling prompt action to prepare and dispatch undercover and military vessels to take decisive action.

The project involves personnel from the Nigerian Armed Forces, Air Force, Army, Navy, Police, Department of State Services and officers of NIMASA. Aside from the C4i operational center, the Deep Blue Project also involves the acquisition of special mission vessels and armored vehicles. These assets are operated by trained personnel to ensure effective monitoring and control of the Nigerian maritime domain.

The land assets include 16 armored vehicles dedicated to coastal patrol and a Maritime Security Unit (MSU) comprising 600 specially trained troops for interdiction operations. The sea assets include 2 Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats. The air assets comprise two Special Mission Aircrafts for surveillance of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); three Special Mission Helicopters for search and rescue operations; and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

To give credence to the Deep Blue Project, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in 2019 signed into law the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act, aimed at enhancing the regime of prosecution of offenders. Since this Act came into law, it has facilitated and enhanced prosecution of about 30 persons who have been punished for various offences.

The signing into law of this Act gives force to both the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 and the Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) 1988.

Being the first of its kind in the West and Central African Sub-Region, the lawsuit addresses the international requirement for separate legislation to tackle piracy and other related maritime offences in the Nigerian waters and by extension, the Gulf of Guinea.

As part of efforts to bolster the opportunities in the Nigerian maritime sector, in August 2023, the Federal Government of Nigeria, under the leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR accorded a “special status” to the maritime sector by creating a Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy; a move that stakeholders have described as a step in the right direction. The Ministry has continued to provide direction for the sector in order to harness the resources in the oceans.

Suffice to state that Nigeria’s exit from the piracy list has received several commendations from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and stakeholders in the global maritime community. This can be alluded to the synergetic approach NIMASA has put in place in order to reap the benefits of the Deep Blue Project.

To underscore the importance of the maritime sector to economic development, Dr. Dayo Mobereola, the Director General of NIMASA, during a meeting with top Management staff of the Agency, emphasized the need to align the Agency’s objectives with presidential priorities without losing sight of the Agency’s core functions.

These areas include; developing and implementing a national policy on Marine and Blue Economy, enhancing maritime safety, security and compliance with globally acceptable standards, promoting indigenous participation in the maritime sector in line with the Cabotage Act, and sustaining a zero-incident report for Nigeria in the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy reports. All these require collaboration, which will lead to information gathering and sharing, with the Deep Blue initiative playing a pivotal role in the actualization of the aforementioned priorities.

During the Operation Maritime Capability Demonstration held in Lagos, Mobereola, while addressing the media, assured that the Agency is committed to the sustainability of the project. He said, ‘This project has earned Nigeria international recognition by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and we have been removed from the piracy list. The aim is to continue to sustain it, and we will continue to encourage the personnel of the Deep Blue Project to keep up their efforts.  On our part we will continue to support you as much as possible. Please, do not reduce your efforts, as we count on you to make the maritime space more secure. The President of Nigeria is counting on you, the Honourable Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola, is also in support of this project.”

It is therefore apt to state that the Deep Blue Project has put Nigeria on the global pedestal and has helped to reduce piracy activities on the nation’s waterways, and by extension, the Gulf of Guinea. The NIMASA Management has consistently reiterated its zero tolerance for illegal activities our waters.

The author of this piece wishes to emphasize the need for the Federal Government to invest in Research and Development in order to optimize the benefits in the sector. It is no gainsaying that the maritime sector, if well utilized, can contribute massively to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria. Stakeholders, on their part, have a role to play, and the government should continue to provide the enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

Conclusively, the cliché “potential” commonly used to describe the opportunities in the sector should be transformed into reality so that the Blue Economy rationale does not become mere theoretical or rhetoric; rather, the government should adopt a practical approach, by engaging the professionals in the industry, whilst also walking the talk. There is still a lot to do in achieving a robust maritime sector in Nigeria. With all these in place, Dr. Mobereola stands the chance to write his name in gold, and posterity will be kind to him, as he makes efforts to calibrate the Nigerian maritime sector towards economic growth and development.

 Oluwafemi writes from Lagos.

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