The use of contract armed security guards by shipping lines to deter piracy has been proscribed by the Federal Government despite increased robbery and weak policing of Nigerian waters. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
As the world’s navies could not control vast area in the high seas to secure all ships sailing to various ports, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in 2011 approved an interim guidance to shipowners, ship operators and shipmasters to use privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships transiting the high risk piracy areas in the Gulf of Guinea and other zones in the Gulf of Aden.
The development made ship owners to pay as much as $60,000 to armed security guards to secure and protect vessels and crew.
For instance in Nigeria, shipping lines claimed that they spent over $200 million annually to protect cargoes and their crew by placing armed guards on board merchant vessels because of the menace of armed robbery in the Niger- Delta area.
However, the Federal Government said last week that such practice would no longer be business as usual for liners sailing on Nigerian waters.
Nigerian coasts have already been labeled as the hotbed of piracy and sea robbery.
The Government said that it was illegal and against Nigerian constitution for private armed guards to operate onboard vessels.
Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, in Lagos, said that there were reasons to be worried about armed guards.
He noted that the private armed guards would not perform their anti-piracy duties in a way that does not escalate violence, involve unlawful use of force or cause international incidents.
Although Malami acknowledged that Nigeria’s waters was an alluring area for criminal activities such as piracy, armed robbery at sea, maritime terrorism, and a host of other vices, on the other hand, he explained that under the Nigerian law, armed guards were not permitted on merchant vessels within her waters.
The AGF, who was represented by the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Financial Crimes, Biodun Aikomu, at the recent Lagos International Maritime Week, said that security on Nigerian waters remained the prerogative of the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
He said that the National Assembly had enacted laws to address specific issues relating to maritime security and operations including the NIMASA Act, Cabotage Act among other international conventions, which Nigerian is a signatory to.
He noted: “The question as to the legality or otherwise of armed guards on merchant vessels in Nigeria is quite straight forward, under Nigerian law, armed guards are not permitted on merchant vessels within the Nigerian waters.”
In considering the legality or the use of armed guards on Nigerian flagged vessels, he said that important consideration had been given to the legal regime of the Flag State (Nigeria) vis-a vis the legal regimes of other states in a given situation.
Malami explained that there should be no express authorisation of vessel owners to have private armed guards on board.
He said that in Nigeria, individuals were not permitted to own or use fire arms except licence is sought and obtained in respect of such firearms.
The AGF said that giving such permit was expressly prohibited under Section 17 of the Private Companies Guard Act.
Despite his explanation, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) said that the attacks on vessels berthing at the Lagos Port Complex were worrisome.
The Managing Director of the authority, Hadiza Bala Usman, said at a stakeholders’ meeting in Apapa, Lagos that the management was considering a number of strategies to check the attacks.
The managing director noted such strategies when reinforced, would bring to book those behind the attacks on vessels berthing at the Lagos Port Complex.
Usman noted that more patrol boats would be acquired to patrol waterfronts.
The Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, explained that the Nigerian maritime domain requires the commitment of all stakeholders to ensure optimum safety of investments in the sector.
He stated that there were a lot of factors that had contributed to the cost of products coming into the country through the seas, which makes it very important to tackle insecurity in the waterways.
He said: “The only way we can tackle maritime crime is for all of us to work together. There have been several regional initiatives in that respect to tackle maritime crime.
“Apart from the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy, you have the Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy, you have the Gulf of Guinea Commission dealing with the same thing there are several sub-regional and regional initiatives to tackle maritime insecurity so I see a lot of potential in regional collaboration and integration.”
Government should invest in maritime security, domesticate international conventions it ratified and enforce them in order to boost shipping in the country.