Nigeria is now ranked next to lawless Somalia in sea piracy. She holds an unenviable record of being a giant in piracy activities in the Gulf of Guinea.
In April 2017, the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released its Q1, 2017 global piracy report, in which it scored Nigeria very low.
“A total of 20 reports against all vessel types were received for Nigeria, 16 of which occurred off the coast of Brass, Bonny and Bayelsa. Guns were reportedly used in 18 of the incidents and vessels were underway in 17 of 20 reports. 39 of the 49 crewmembers kidnapped globally occurred off Nigerian waters in seven separate incidents. Other crew kidnappings in 2017 have been reported 60 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria.
“In general, all waters in and off Nigeria remain risky, despite intervention in some cases by the Nigerian Navy. We advise vessels to be vigilant”.
“The number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea could be even higher than our figures as many incidents continue to be unreported.”
It added that: “Guns were reportedly used in 18 of the incidents and vessels were underway in 17 of 20 reports. 39 of the 49 crewmembers kidnapped globally occurred off Nigerian waters in seven separate incidents. Other crew kidnappings in 2017 have been reported 60 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria.
Again, in April 2018, a similar report was released. And as it was in 2017, Nigeria still ranked ridiculously in the first quarter 2108 report.
The global body said 66 incidents were recorded in the first quarter of 2018, up from 43 for the same period in 2017, and 37 in Q1 2016.
According to the IMB, out of the 66 cases, Nigeria alone recorded 22 incidents between January and March 2018. “Of the 11 vessels fired upon worldwide, eight were off Nigeria – including a 300,000 MT deadweight VLCC tanker more than 40nm off Brass”.
The IMB added that, “in these cases, the intent of the perpetrators is to steal the oil cargo and kidnap crew. The prompt detection and response to any unauthorised movements of an anchored vessel could help in the effective response to such attacks”.
Labeling the Gulf of Guinea where Nigeria is dominant player as a hotspot for piracy, the IMB added that, “attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are against all vessels. Crews have been taken hostage and kidnapped from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels as well as product tankers”.
It is sad that, after all have been said and all assurances given, Nigeria’s rating is still as poor as it was almost a decade ago.
Piracy has now become a means of livelihood for hoodlums, miscreants and militants across the length and breadth of the Niger Delta region and Lagos. Local and international statistics are scary enough to underscore the economic and social dangers that are faced by victims of piracy or sea robbery.
A lot has been said about the various options that we have as a nation. These options range from the NIMASA/Navy alliance, the Coast Guard option and the moribund Maritime Security Agency (MASECA) option.
We recall that the NIMASA/ Navy Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) gave birth to the Maritime Guard Command which is domiciled in NIMASA. It is this command that is largely responsible for the increasing rate of arrests of sea robbers and pirates in recent times.
Without boring anyone with statistics that are already in public domain, the current rating and the alarm that was raised by the International Maritime Bureau about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is enough reason to reappraise our approach.
It is shocking that while piracy is reducing in the Gulf of Aden where Somali pirates are gods, it is escalating in the Gulf of Guinea, and Nigerian pirates are being fingered for contributing immensely to it.
It is against these shocking facts from the IMB that we question the collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy.
As much as we agree that the alliance between the Navy and NIMASA is producing results, we are still of the opinion that it is not a most acceptable way of tackling the menace. It is a model that can not be cited outside of our shores.
We also do not have confidence in the proposed anti-piracy Bill which the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is spearheading.
We are still irrevocably committed to our belief that the most reasonable model appears to be Coast Guard, which is already a tested global model in the fight against piracy and all forms of vices associated with seafaring.
The question is: if the Coast Guard apparatus has been tested and adjudged adequate in other maritime domains, what do we have against it in Nigeria. It is even more curious that the same forces that were against the establishment of Coast Guard were those that also worked against the establishment of a Maritime Security Agency (MASECA).
We stress it again that it enabling Act, it is the statutory responsibility of NIMASA to ensure a safe and secure water for ships, crew and cargo, the ad hoc arrangement with Navy or any institutions for that matter is just what it is – purely, ad hoc.
The Navy and the Joint Military Task Force in the Niger Delta code-named Operation Pulo Shield appear to be the toast right now; it is recording seizures and arrests of oil thieves and ships. There have been unprecedented arrests of sea robbers, oil thieves.
But all these are adhoc; the earlier NIMASA takes full charge the better for the nation, the maritime industry and the economy at large.
By the same token, we are rather baffled at the award of US$195m Maritime Security Contract to an Israeli Firm by the Federal Government. We see it as another step in a wrong direction; it is not the solution to the rising cases of violence on our waters.
The contract which covers procurement of security equipment and training of Nigerian security personnel to tackle crime on the nation's waters is laughable, to say the least.
Like stated earlier, Nigeria should stop dancing around maritime security. We insist that there is only on option in the fight against maritime crimes, and that is the creation of Coast Guard or Maritime Security Agency (by whatever name it will be called.
If this is not acceptable, then NIMASA has to do things differently, it has to demonstrate capability to fulfill its mandate, which include safety and security on Nigerian waters. It is failing woefully in this.