Feature

Insecurity on Nigerian waters as bad as Boko Haram, banditry –Experts

…say $195m deep blue project not solution

…urge FG to declare state of emergency on Gulf of Guinea piracy

 

Global maritime watchdog, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its annual piracy report released on January 13th indicated that 95 per cent of all seafarers kidnapped at sea in the world in 2020, took place in the Gulf of Guinea and the criminals responsible were mainly pirates from Nigeria’s delta region. In this report, PAUL OGBUOKIRI raises a question mark on the $195 million deep blue project meant to check the activities of these criminals. He concludes that aside from acquiring platforms, NIMASA does not have the professionals that would man the platforms to root out the Nigerian sea criminals that have turned the Gulf of Guinea to the most unsafe in the world for navigation.

 

The Gulf of Guinea (GOG)

 

The Gulf of Guinea encompasses a vast tract of the Atlantic Ocean that’s traversed by more than 20,000 vessels a year, making it difficult for under-resourced governments to police. Fringed by an almost 4,000-mile-long shoreline that stretches from Senegal to Angola, it serves as the main thoroughfare for crude oil exports and imports of refined fuel and other goods.

 

Piracy surge in GOG draws Maersk, others call for action

 

The world’s biggest shipping company demanded a more effective military response to surging pirate attacks and record kidnappings off the coast of West Africa. The number of attacks on vessels globally jumped 20 per cent last year to 195, with 135 crew kidnapped, the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre said in its report.

 

 

The Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95 per cent of hostages taken in 22 separate instances, and all three of the hijackings that occurred, the agency said. 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. A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, which transports about 15 per cent of the globe’s seaborne freight, said decisive action needs to be taken.

 

“It is unacceptable in this day and age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without having to worry about the risk of piracy,” said Aslak Ross, Head of Marine Standards at Copenhagen-based Maersk.

 

“The risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed.” Bertrand Monnet, a professor of criminal risk management at France’s EDHEC Business School who has studied piracy in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region for 15 years, estimates that a maximum of 15 gauge operate offshore West Africa, each comprising 20 to 50 members.

 

“The Delta both provides the launch area for the pirates but is also where they go back to when they have their kidnapped crew to negotiate ransoms” said Max Williams, security firm Africa Risk Compliance’s London-based chief operating officer.

 

Nigeria, the regional powerhouse, has taken the lead in preventing attacks and its navy says it has arrested more than 100 suspects who are facing trial under a new anti-piracy law – the first of its kind in the region.

 

 

The government plans to commission nearly $200 million of new equipment this year, including helicopters, drones and high-speed boats, to boost the navy’s capabilities.

 

Nigeria is committed to “ensuring that this menace of piracy is gotten rid of in our waters, so that those with legitimate business in shipping, fishing, and oil and gas can go about their business without fear,” Rear-Admiral Oladele Daji, commander of the Nigerian Navy’s western fleet, said in an interview.

 

Many shipowners favour a more muscular international effort modeled on the military response to hijackings offshore Somalia, which was the global epicenter of piracy from about 2001 to 2012.

Armed guards and warships dispatched by the European Union, NATO and a U.S.-led task force to protect vessels traveling through the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest trade routes linking Europe to Asia, helped bring the problem under control.

 

Tackling Nigeria piracy

 

If national governments focus on their territorial waters –- the 12 nautical miles (14 miles) from their shores –- major naval powers could reduce piracy further afield in the gulf by deploying two or three frigates equipped with helicopters, said Jakob Larsen, head of maritime security at the Baltic and International Maritime Council, a Copenhagen-based shipowners’ group.

 

He considers such support unlikely because the sea routes aren’t as strategically important as those off Africa’s east coast. “There is little international appetite for getting involved in Nigeria’s security problems,” he said. The Liberian Shipowners’ Council urged the Nigerian authorities to disrupt the pirates’ onshore criminal activities.

 

Improving employment prospects for impoverished coastal communities would reduce the threat of piracy in the longer term, but won’t address the immediate problem, said Kierstin Del Valle Lachtman, the council’s secretary general.

 

While the West African attacks were initially concentrated offshore Nigeria, they’ve since spread to waters off Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Togo and Cameroon, according to Kamal-Deen Ali, executive director of the Accra-based Centre for Maritime Law and Security Africa and a former Ghanaian naval officer.

 

The number of violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has remained fairly consistent over the past decade, but abductions of more than 10 people have become increasingly commonplace, said Dirk Siebels, senior analyst at Denmark-based Risk Intelligence.

 

The pirates are increasingly operating deeper out to sea, with kidnappings on average taking place 60 nautical miles offshore in 2020, according to the IMB. The furthest out 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.

 

Only unqualified seamen remained on the Curacao Trader, which was left adrift 195 nautical miles from the coast. The crew were freed the following month. “The perpetrators of such incidents are perfectly aware there is almost no risk of being caught,” said Munro Anderson, a partner at London-based maritime security firm Dryad Global.

 

“That is precisely the kind of incident an international naval coalition could mitigate.” A former Minister of Interior of Nigeria, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho (rtd), said there is an urgent need for the Federal Government to tackle armed robbery and piracy on Nigeria’s territorial waters.

 

Iheanacho, a Master Mariner, shipowner and operator in the Nigerian oil and gas sector; said there is the need for the involvement of the Nigerian Navy in checkmating the activities of pirates, saying the solution to the notorious Somalia piracy was tackled with such concerted international effort. “Armed robbery and piracy give our country a bad name and one of the consequences is that the premium is added to insurance on goods coming into the country,” the mariner added.

 

Deep Blue Project’ to reduce criminalities in its waters

 

Though there was massive criticisms on the $195 million ‘Deep Blue Project’ promoted by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, President Muhammadu Buhari went ahead to approve it for him and the Minister during its launch stated that despite stakeholders’ misgivings over the project, it will be the solution Nigeria is looking for the criminalities in its territorial waters of criminalities and the Gulf of Guinea waters.

 

According to the minister, because of Nigeria’s coastline length, its exclusive economic zone, and its strategic location on a major ship  ping route – the Gulf of Guinea – the country cannot afford illegalities, such as piracy, oil theft, sea robbery, and other crimes. Amaechi said personnel training has been completed even as all the equipment expected will arrive in March, by then, the Federal Government will be fully prepared to confront the criminals in the sea.

 

Deep Blue Project could flop

 

Speaking on the a maritime safety experts said the project would not achieve the set objective, saying the Israeli contractors supplying the platforms are only executing the commercial contract and will not be responsible for the realization of the objective of the contract.

 

He said the problem requires a multinational approach and if possible international collaboration like the Somalia piracy solution. According to him, despite acquiring sophisticated equipment for the Deep Blue Project, if there is no proper understanding, synergy and cooperation with other security agencies, the aim to tackle insecurity in the Nigerian waters and by extension the Gulf of Guinea waters will not be realized.

 

“NIMASA which operates like a civil service does not have the capacity and the Master Mariners that would man the platforms and the Navy will gladly allow itself to be controlled by a civilian body like NIMASA.

 

” He further said that maritime crime is not war, and does require military approach to be tackled or brought under control. “You cannot bomb a ship when pirates hijack or attack it, you only negotiate for the safety of crew and the vessel, so why parading weapons with the Defense Ministry or bringing the Defense Minister to showcase it?

 

A cursory look at NIMASA’s workforce show that it does not have required professionals like Captains and Master Mariners that could man the Deep Blue Project platforms; rather they will be depending solely on the Nigeria Navy which will not for anything allow NIMASA control or be subservient to NIMASA in the discharge of its statutory function.,” he said.

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