At the inauguration of Falcon Eye Project, the Nigerian Navy’s Strategic Maritime Surveillance System, on July 8, 2021, the President, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), made a troubling remark on the Nigerian waters. The President hinted that Nigeria’s economic lifeblood was in dire straits with about $26.3bn reportedly lost to piracy, sea robbery and other forms of criminality.
Represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the event aimed at combating the myriad of security problems in the maritime sector, Buhari lamented that the criminal activities posed huge risks to the country’s hydrocarbon resources – natural gas, oil and coal – largely domiciled in the troubled maritime environment.
“It accounts for 55 per cent of our GDP, 95 per cent of our export earnings, and about 70 per cent of government revenue,” Buhari disclosed.
The President’s statement echoed worries expressed by stakeholders from the riverine Nembe and Brass local government areas of Bayelsa State four months earlier. At a press briefing in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, in March, they decried incessant sea piracy and kidnapping on waterways, lamenting that five of the 13 residents kidnapped in the two previous months were still being held hostage.
During the meeting presided over by a former Deputy Speaker in the state House of Assembly, Chief Victor Sam-Ateke, the natives maintained that heightened attacks on the waterways in the past few weeks indicated a new abduction trend.
Sam-Ateke said, “When these boats are ambushed, either the outboard engine is carted away, goods taken away and in most cases, passengers kidnapped. In some cases, the abducted women were repeatedly raped.
“As we speak, five persons are in the kidnappers’ den. Eight were released last week making 13 persons kidnapped from January 1, 2021 to date.”
He appealed to International Oil Companies and other Nigerians to support the effort aimed at ensuring safety on the waterways.
However, these two highlighted scenarios only reinforced long-time recurring attacks on seafarers, ships and passengers on Nigerian waterways, especially in the Gulf of Guinea connecting Nigeria to the global maritime business. In 2020 alone, there were 135 maritime kidnappings of which 130 took place in the region, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
“We see that the pirates are acting with greater impunity,” IMB Director, Michael Howlett, told DW, a German news platform. “They are spending more periods of time on board vessels. In one case, they were on board a vessel for more than 24 hours, totally unchallenged.”
Although there was an increase in the number of piracy attacks on ships from 162 in 2019 to 195 in 2020 globally according to Statista, waters off the Nigerian coast experienced the highest number of attacks. In 2020, the most actual and attempted piracy attacks – 35 cases – occurred off the coast of Nigeria.
One of such 35 incidents happened in July 2020 when pirates attacked the Sendje Berge (a Norwegian vessel) off the coast of Nigeria and kidnapped nine Nigerians onboard.
The vessel was working at the Okwori oilfield on behalf of China’s Addax Petroleum when the pirates struck.
The Gulf of Guinea has been the scene of a growing number of attacks by pirates who loot ships or kidnap crews or passengers for ransom.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency quantified the impact of these attacks, revealing that Nigeria and other countries on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea lost $793.7m in 2016 as a result of maritime insecurity.
Presenting a paper titled ‘Enhancing collaboration amongst stakeholders for improved maritime security in Nigeria’ at the Chief of Naval Staff Annual Conference in Kano State, NIMASA Director-General, Dr Bashir Jamoh, said there was a need for enhanced stakeholder collaboration in tackling maritime security challenges in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea.
“The economic cost of maritime insecurity is very pronounced for Nigeria compared to other countries. While the economic cost of piracy activities in Asia was estimated at $4.5m (as of 2016), the estimated economic cost of maritime insecurity in the GoG was about $793.7m,” he said.
Jamoh cited ransom payment, insurance premiums, re-routing ships, security equipment, losses to oil and fishing industry, and cost of security escort as sources of loss of revenue in the maritime sector.
He said efforts by NIMASA to address maritime insecurity included the implementation of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection (also known as Deep Blue Project), the enactment of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act 2019, community engagements, among others.
NIMASA in June 2021 launched the $195m Deep Blue Project deployed in Nigeria’s exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Guinea. Last week, the agency quoted IMB as saying that there was 77 per cent reduction in piracy on Nigerian waters as well as 39 per cent reduction in piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea.
But the arrival of a Royal Navy warship (HMS Trent) alongside Royal Marines from the United Kingdom last Saturday in Lagos suggested that insecurity on the coastal line was still a major issue.
The contingent from 42 Commando will work with the Nigerian Navy in a joint patrol to carry out security operations in the Gulf of Guinea, covering Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia and Cape Verde.
Meanwhile, the President of the Nigerian Institute of Shipping, Capt. Anthony Onoharigho, applauded NIMASA’s multi-million dollar security project but expressed concerns that it might achieve little result if commensurate effort was not made to secure inland waters and address other sundry issues.
He said, “What NIMASA has done is fine. But the same piracy problem could also happen on the inland waters because the spillover from the offshore will spill to the inshore.
“The problem in the country is enormous. These pirates are our people who are jobless. To clean that water, the government ought to first create an empowering environment, employ seamen and remunerate them well. The amount being paid to Nigerian seamen is low compared with any part of the world.”
The National Executive Director, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Mr Paul Ndibe, said appropriate punishments as prescribed by domestic and international laws should be meted out to any pirates caught to serve as a deterrent.
He said beyond the Deep Blue Project, NIMASA, the Nigerian Navy and security agencies in other maritime domains in the Gulf of Guinea should form a command for joint security operations.
Ndibe stated, “There should be a joint command for the security of vessels in the Gulf of Guinea. It doesn’t matter if Nigeria champions it. All the countries involved must come together and have a single command unit for the purpose of ensuring security along the coastal line.
“This is even more important now that we are beginning to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area. We are beginning to see an upsurge in cargo delivery along this coastal line within African countries. These are vessels that can easily be hijacked by the pirates. This is the time to initiate this command control so that both small and big vessels plying along the coastline can be safe. That is the only way we can increase our volume of trade, reduce cost and ensure that everyone is safe.“
A Professor of Transport Management Technology at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State, Chukwudi Ibe, said tackling kidnapping and robbery on the sea required government’s collective efforts, private sector and communities as well as deployment of modern equipment.
He said, “Vigilantes should be engaged. They know these pirates and they can report them if the government cooperate with them (the vigilantes). The government should also equip the security agencies, particularly the navy, with technology.
“Technology should be deployed to combat maritime insecurity. Drones should be used to monitor what is happening along the waterways. The drone can alert if there is any danger and security agents will respond swiftly and nip the attack in the bud.”
A February 2021 report by Marine Insight, an online news outlet, disclosed that ship owners had started installing armed guards and creating citadels and barbed wires on board for protection from piracy attacks along the Gulf of Aden in the Middle East, the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. The report urged seafarers to demand armed guards in all hostile sea areas, including Lagos, declared by IMB as highly prone to piracy attacks.
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Publish date : 2021-11-13 23:30:52