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Anxiety as foreigners infiltrate West African waters

Foreigners have infiltrated the West African waters under the guise of port security programmes to tackle attacks on container ships, tankers and dry bulk vessels, which has led to huge losses, BAYO AKOMOLAFE report

 

Fringed by an almost 7,000-kilometers long shoreline that stretches from Senegal to Nigeria and to Angola, the Gulf of Guinea (GoG)serves as the main access way for crude oil export and import of refined fuel and other goods. It was learnt that more than 70 per cent of the 20,000 vessels use the waterway to Nigerian ports every year.

 

Challenge However, the high number of ships using the water channel has posed a challenge for underresourced governments that have to police the area with poor weapons to repel attacks by robbers and pirates. It is in the light of this development that made Nigeria to organise a global maritime security conference attended by about 30 countries in 2019 to address the problem of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea. Nonetheless, two years down the line, no tangible result has been seen in the maritime environment in the region.

 

Theft

Already, a former Consul-General of the United States Embassy in Nigeria, Mr. Jeffrey Hawkins, had said that the Gulf of Guinea had been known as a very dangerous place to do business from cargo theft to kidnapping for ransom, noting that maritime security enforcement was weak in the country. He added that loss to the nation as a result of the criminal activities was more than the $7 billion.

 

Hawkins said: “This is not just lost revenue that would otherwise enrich some faceless foreign corporation. This is revenue that could and should benefit the Nigerian people.

 

And yes, this is revenue that should reward vessel owners for their investment – and encourage them to invest more.”

 

Invasion Worried by the insecurity, the European Union said that it had become urgent to take over Nigerian and other waters under the guise of the West and Central Africa Port Security (WeCAPS) programmes, which started in 2019 to improve port security in targeted partner countries.

 

According to the union, the region had made political commitments already in June 2013 in  the Code of Conduct concerning the repression of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illicit maritime activities, kidnapping of seafarers, illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing, smuggling and trafficking of drugs and arms, as well as transnational organised crime which have posed a major threat to maritime security and ship navigation.

 

Weakness

When it was first launched, the objective is to address vulnerabilities related to port security in Nigeria, Benin, Togo and other West African countries in line with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) standards, however when all efforts by governments in the region to stop crimes have failed, the European Union (EU) decided to take over the Gulf of Guinea waters as Nigeria Navy has been facing inadequacy platform, infrastructure and sabotage, leading to illicit activities of local and foreign collaborators on the waterways.

Political control

Afraid of their assets on the waters, EU said it would henceforth ensure political control and strategic guidance of Nigeria and other West and Central African countries in an effort to address the many challenges to maritime security, including organised crime. Crimes For instance, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB)’s Piracy Reporting Centre the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95per cent of hostages taken in 22 separate instances, and all three of the hijackings that occurred.

 

The attacks have pushed up insurance and other costs for shippers operating off West Africa, with some resorting to hiring escort vessels manned by armed navy personnel.

 

The bureau said that pirates were increasingly operating deeper out to sea, with kidnappings on average taking place 60 nautical miles offshore in 2020, noting that the farthest took place in mid-July, when eight machine-gun wielding pirates boarded a chemical tanker  off Nigeria’s coast and seized 13 crew members before fleeing.

 

It added: “Only unqualified seamen remained on the Curacao Trader, which was left adrift 195 nautical miles from the coast. The crew members were freed the following month.”

 

Advice Troubled by the trend, AP Moller-Maersk A/S, which transports about 15per cent of the globe’s seaborne freight, said that decisive action needs to be taken to address piracy and sea robbery.

 

According to the group’s Head of Marine Standards, Aslak Ross, it is unacceptable in this age that seafarers could not perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without having to worry about the risk of piracy, saying that the risk had reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed. Last line Government should empower Nigerian Navy and other security operatives to protect maritime trade.

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