The authorities must do more by ridding the waters of pirates
Latest revelation from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) of a rise in reported incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is troubling. Twenty one incidents were recorded in the first nine months of 2023, compared to 14 during the same period in 2022. “The IMB sees regional ownership as critical to safeguard shipping and trade and to address these crimes,” said IMB Director, Michael Howlett.
To say the least, this spate of attacks is worrisome as it has given Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea a negative image in the comity of maritime nations. The negative impact of this development goes beyond the oil industry to the larger economy. Apart from reducing the number of vessels calling at the nation’s seaports due to the fear of an imminent attack, it has helped in no small measure to increase the cost of doing business in Nigeria as ship owners and the consignees now charge higher than they do for other countries. The huge costs are eventually passed off in the cost of freight to the final consumer. Besides, the high number of lives lost to such crime aside, piracy drives fear into shipping practitioners, especially ship captains and master mariner.
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 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 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.
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 of opinion 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. We therefore enjoin authorities to do more to make our waters safe and rid our country of what has become another emblem of shame.
Apparently mindful of the importance of the sector, President Tinubu has appointed a Minister for Marine and Blue Economy. Beyond resolving the problems at the ports, Adegboyega Oyetola must work with the security agencies and counterparts in the oil and gas sector to tackle ‘petro-piracy’ involving the hijacking of tankers for oil theft. We must rid the Gulf of Guinea of these dangerous pirates.
In addressing the challenge, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has always advocated that a legal framework that prescribes stiffer sanctions, a more vigorous and vigilant military-led patrol and better intelligence gathering network would be required. The federal government must work to ensure that the Nigerian territorial waters do not continue to harbour criminals.