In its half year report on global piracy in 2019, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said that, out of the 75 seafarers taken hostage onboard or kidnapped for ransom worldwide so far this year, 62 were captured in the Gulf of Guinea – off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon. Nigeria is the most prominent player in the Gulf of Guinea.
It added that, out of the nine vessels fired upon worldwide, eight were off the coast of Nigeria. These attacks took place on average 65 nautical miles off the coast – meaning they are classified as acts of piracy.
The IMB however acknowledged a ray of hope in Nigeria’s fight against piracy; it noted that 21 incidents were recorded around Nigeria between January and June 2019, down from 31 in the same period of 2018. It commended the Nigerian navy for actively responding to reported incidents by dispatching patrol boats.
The report notwithstanding, there is no doubt that, there has been a reduction in the frequency of attacks, especially from the days when Nigeria was equated with Somalia as piracy hot spots.
Local and international authorities in piracy are united that the main threat to safe navigation is still found off the restive Niger Delta, specifically on the approaches to ports and oil terminals in Rivers and Delta states. According to reports, “95% of attacks that were recorded in Nigerian waters occurred near Bonny Island, within 60 nautical miles of the shore. Pirates operating in these waters are noted for kidnapping of seafarers for ransom.
The above gives credence to the failure of the Federal Government to successfully rein-in the restive youths in the Niger Delta. There is a nexus between Niger Delta youths, militancy and piracy.
Perhaps, the most significant credence to the fact that Nigeria, through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is set to tame the menace of piracy is the recently signed Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill, 2019, otherwise called ‘Anti-piracy Bill’.
By its assent, the Anti-piracy Bill, gives effect to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, and the International Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Navigation (SUA), 1988, and its Protocols.
In the words of NIMASA, the new law will herald a dramatic improvement in security on the country’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.
According to NIMASA, besides addressing maritime insecurity, the new law, very importantly, also fulfills the international requirement for standalone legislation on piracy, as against the approach of using the Maritime Operations Coordinating Board Amendment Bill to criminalise piracy.
It added that, “with the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act, Nigeria has officially become the first country in the West and Central African Sub-Region to promulgate a separate law against piracy, an important international requirement set by the IMO as part of measures to guarantee secure global shipping”.
Even though, a lot of stakeholders were skeptical when it was first mooted, the US$195Million maritime security contract that was awarded to an Israeli firm; HLSI Security Firms and Technology to procure security equipment and assist in training Nigerian security personnel to tackle crime along the nation’s waterways is taking shape.
The good news is that the Command, Control, Computer Communication and Information Centre, otherwise known as the C4i Centre of the Deep Blue Project has commenced operations on a 24 hour basis at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety agency, NIMASA. According to NIMASA, the C4i Centre located at the NIMASA Maritime Resource Development Facility in Kirikiri Lagos is to serve as the Command and Control Centre for the deep blue project where tactical and strategic decisions for the operational workflow of all the platforms of the project will emanate from. It is equipped with alert setting capabilities, Coastal Automatic Identification System (AIS) and SAT AIS signals all over the world, liaison with some international security networks for access to database for vessel movement, ability to monitor vessels movement going back to six years backwards. While commission the centre, the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside had stated that the Centre is in line with the Federal Government’s Deep Blue Project initiative, geared towards the realization of a safe and secured maritime domain in Nigeria. He further added that to realise this laudable initiative, the agency has trained some personnel, including staff of NIMASA who will man the control centre, which will bring to an end the nefarious activities of those perpetuating crimes in our waterways, through monitoring and intelligence gathering. He had assured that the C4I operational centre is the central nerve from which all actionable information needed by all other components of the project emanate. Dakuku assured that the centre will serve as the base for situational intelligence for the Deep Blue Project, with 40 personnel broken down into Operators, Intelligence Officers and Shift Supervisors manning the centre.
It all sounds good and we hope that it works as well, because failure will only mean a return to the status quo ante
We recall that this newspaper had also opposed the Homeland Security International (HLSI) contract. Our opposition is based on the seeming similarity between it and the previous one that was awarded to by the then ruling PDP to Global West Vessel Services. Cancelling the contract was one of the first official actions of the government of APC. Its argument was that it was wrong to award maritime security contract of a whole nation to a private individual or a private firm (as the case may be). This newspaper had posited at that time that, while it is true that the nation waters are very prone to sea robbery and piracy, inviting foreign firm is not the solution. However, there appears to be significant difference in the modus operandi of the two contracts. While, the previous one was shrouded in secrecy, executing its mandate through the use of ex-militants and indigenes of the Niger Delta, there is clear manifestation of openness, professionalism, interagency collaboration and sincerity in the execution of the HLSI contract. The contract execution involves training of personnel from the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Police, Department of State Services and officers of NIMASA.
This is apart from the C4i operational centre; there is also the use of special mission aircraft, special mission vessels, armoured Vehicles and a 350-man maritime security intervention unit for effective manning of the Nigerian maritime domain. The template being paraded by HLSI and NIMASA in the execution of the contract appears attractive, but, it is our hope that these lead to a safer navigation into the nation’s coasts and harbours. If the HLSI contract is well executed and the ant-piracy bill is put to test appropriately, then in no distant future, Nigeria should have left the damning class of pirates-invested nations and by extension, cleaned up the image of the Gulf of Guinea as one of the most notorious channels in the world.