The upsurge in Piracy in Nigeria is the failure of NIMASA, Navy Collaboration

Last week, BIMCO;   the   global body of top players in shipping raised an alarm for what it called a spike in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, where Nigeria is a dominant player.  It noted that, about 40 ships had been attacked in the Gulf of Guinea in the past 12 months.

BIMCO’s alarm coincided with the fact that, Nigeria has already witnessed attacks so early in the year.

Most recently, six seafarers were kidnapped from the MSC Mandy, which was on the way to Lagos, Nigeria. Apart from this, armed robbers attacked two tankers off the coast of Nigeria on January 7.

While global piracy watchdogs are yet to release their 2108 comprehensive statistics on piracy, quarterly reports issued last year, were damning enough to cause anxiety among agencies   of government that are responsible for taming the attacks.

In one of the 2018 reports, it was affirmed that Nigerian pirates accounted for all 35 kidnapping of seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea in the first half of 2018. The report added that, Nigeria remains as the world’s epicentre for piracy activity.

In its first quarter 2018 report, the IMB said “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”.

Apart from attacks on ships enroute and at anchorage, the daredevils have become more daring; they now attack ships at berth. This has been happening in Lagos ports ceaselessly.

The list of ships that had been attacked at berth include: MV Pamyat, MV Asia Ruby, MV Aquata, MT Sichem New York, MV Kiana and MV Dino have been attacked at different times.

There have also been attempts at ships at the various anchorages in the country.

According to the report, which also narrowed the source of attacks to two Niger Delta states of Rivers and Bayelsa:  “From January through June 2018, EOS recorded 34 Nigerian pirate attacks on merchant and fishing vessels in the Gulf of Guinea? These attacks resulted in the kidnap of 35 seafarers for ransom and the hijacking of several vessels”

“Most concerning this year has been the resurgence of ‘petro-piracy’, involving the hijacking of tankers for oil theft,” said Jake Longworth, senior intelligence analyst at EOS Risk. “The return of petro -piracy has been accompanied by an associated increase in the geographical reach of Nigerian pirate gangs, leading to attacks in the waters of Benin and Ghana.”

Similarly, prior to the   half year report, the International Maritime Bureau had in its first quarter 2018 report, ranked Nigeria next to Somalia.

The 2018 report was as damning as the 2017, in which the IMB said that: “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”, it concluded.

We recall also that a body of security officers in charge of the various terminals and jetties in Nigeria; the Port Facility Security Officers (PFSO) had confirmed increase in the spate of attacks on vessels at berth. It also described the development as very worrisome.

The forum said that the dislodgement of criminals from the Atlas Cove area in Lagos has led to the increase in the attacks on vessels berthed at port terminals in Apapa and its environs.

A member of the group; Mr Oscar Alu, said that development in the Atlas Cove has  left the criminals with no alternative than to leverage on the already porous waterfront to continue attack on vessels just to sustain themselves

From available data, the attacks in Lagos were a child’s play compared to what takes place in the Niger Delta region.

Local and international authorities in piracy are united that the main threat to safe navigation is still found within the restive Niger Delta region, specifically on the approaches to ports and oil terminals in the vicinity of the Onne and Port Harcourt ports. According to a report, “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 focused on the kidnap of seafarers for ransom.”

A confirmation of this is the 2018 attack on Swiss-registered MV Garus in Bonny. The attack, which occurred in September led to the kidnap of 12 crew members, they were later released by the pirates after collecting ransom.

The above confirm 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. 

By its enabling Act, it is the statutory responsibility of NIMASA to ensure 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.

Nigeria should stop dancing around maritime security. There is only one option in the fight against maritime crimes, and that is the creation of Coast Guard or Maritime Security Agency (or 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.   

It is sad that, all the alliances that it has so far had have failed. It has aligned with the Navy, Air Force, and prior to that, it had one with Global West.

There is also the Secure Anchorage deal with some private organisations, in which ship owners who desire adequate security for their ships contract owners of the elite anchorages for protection. The Secure Anchorage arrangement is legal and enjoys the endorsement of both the Navy and NIMASA.

Among all these partnerships, it was the one with Global West Vessels Specialists that had a semblance of success; while it lasted there was a significant reduction in the number of attacks and kidnappings.

We also do not have confidence in the proposed Anti-piracy Bill which the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is spearheading.

By the same token, we are rather baffled at the controversial 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 attacks 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.

NIMASA enjoy a seemingly robust relationship with the Nigerian Navy in the fight against piracy, but this isn’t getting the required result, at least with the soaring incidents of attacks off and on the nation’s waters.

As a maritime media organisation, we are still irrevocably committed to our belief that the most reasonable model is the Coast Guard, which is already a globally tested 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.