The Gulf Of Guinea And NIMASA’s Global Maritime Security Conference: What Next?

Curiously, the Editorial Team of this newspaper had planned an Editorial Opinion to appraise the recent Global Maritime Security Conference. Our plan was to challenge its organizers; the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to take maximum advantage of the high profile conference, which true to expectations, was indeed global.

While working on the Editorial, the third quarter 2019 report of the global piracy watchdog body; the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) of the International Chamber of Commerce was released.

Even though the report, on one hand gave Nigeria knocks, it also acknowledged that piracy has in the country. 

The IMB said Nigeria has reduced its Q3, 2019 piracy attacks from 41 in 2018 to 29 in 2019.

It is also true that the damning document, reported that Lagos (Nigeria) accounted for the highest number of attacks globally!

According to the report, which puts question mark on Nigeria’s anti-piracy record, Lagos recorded 11 incidents in 2019, which is the highest number of any port in the world.  

In the report, the IMB report also added that, the Gulf of Guinea is still a high risk area for piracy and armed robbery. 

It threw the bombshell that, “the region accounts for 86% of crew taken hostage and nearly 82% of crew kidnappings globally”!

“Although incidents are down, the Gulf of Guinea continues to be a concern for piracy and armed robbery-related activities with kidnappings of crew members increasing in both scale and frequency,” said Pottengal Mukundan, Director, ICC IMB. 

Last week’s report comes less than two weeks after Nigeria hosted a Global Maritime Summit, specially organized to address piracy and maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea.

The summit put forward a number of measures that could help stem the tide of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

We recall that, in its previous half year report on global piracy in 2019, the IMB had 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 that are also classified as acts of piracy took place on average 65 nautical miles off the coast

It is instructive that, in that same report of mid-2019, the IMB acknowledged that there was 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.

Prior to the latest report which fingered Lagos as the accounting for the highest number of attacks in third quarter 2019, local and international authorities in piracy had been united in the affirmation that the main threat to safe navigation was 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. No authority in piracy had ever mentioned Lagos, until last week.

Truth is, we are not too surprised at the ranking of Lagos as a piracy hotspot. At a recent stakeholders’ interaction with the management of the Nigerian Ports Authourity(NPA),  representatives of some shipping lines and terminal operators spoke of attacks on ships at anchorage and at berth.

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.

It is not a mere coincidence that the IMB report came out less than two weeks after the global conference which drew global key players in shipping, maritime security and safety as well as governments to Nigeria.

While NIMASA is commended for the vision to host the conference, may we urge that the IMB report should not be seen as inaccurate as we always do, when reports don’t favour us a nation. We urge NIMASA to see the report as a further call to action, and a boost to immediately commence implementation of action on the communique of the conference.

It is laughable that NIMASA is playing up the aspect that says that piracy is indeed on the decline in Nigeria, but has ignored the more damning portion which for the first time in history paints a gloomy picture of danger to ships, crew and cargo in offshore and onshore Lagos.

The Secure Anchorage in Lagos, which the NPA recently ill-advisedly and ignorantly described as unacceptable is the only succor that has kept attacks on ships approaching Lagos under control.

The NPA should also do more to protect ships at berth. Almost every week, we get reports of attacks on ships at berth, especially at the Lagos Port Complex. 

It is sad that a ship that was not attacked on the high sea, or while at the Anchorage will be unsafe at berth.

Rather than play denial, the battle against piracy should involve the NPA as much as the NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy.