Nine out of 10 maritime incidents of piracy and kidnappings for ransom are reported in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, which stretches 5,700 kilometres (3,500 miles) from Senegal to Angola.
In the first quarter of 2019, the global piracy monitoring body; the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the Gulf of Guinea and indeed, Nigeria enjoyed a favourable rating.
We recall that the IMB had in April of that year, released its first quarter 2019 report in which it stated that Nigeria recorded 14 incidents of piracy between January and March, in comparison to 22 incidents during the corresponding period in 2018.
It is instructive that, even though Nigeria recorded 14 incidences January to March, she still topped the table among five countries that accounted for 71 percent of the global attacks or 38 incidences. Nigeria was followed by Venezuela (with a distant 4 attacks) and China, Ghana and Indonesia which had three attacks each.
Sadly, however, since 2019, Nigeria has not fared well on the global piracy chat, especially in the Gulf of Guinea where she is a dominant player.
In its 2020 report, the IMB disclosed that 135 crew members were kidnapped from their vessels, with the Gulf of Guinea accounting for over 95% kidnapped. A record of 130 crew members were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents.
According to the report: Since 2019, the Gulf of Guinea has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of multiple crew kidnappings. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, the Gulf of Guinea recorded 39 crew kidnapped in two separate incidents.
Not done yet, the IMB added that incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous as over 80% of attackers were armed with guns, according to the latest IMB figures. All three vessel hijackings and nine of the 11 vessels fired upon in 2020 related to this region. Crew kidnappings were reported in 25% of vessel attacks in the Gulf of Guinea – more than any other region in the world.
The furthest crew kidnapping in 2020 occurred almost 200 nautical miles (NM) from land with the average kidnapping incident taking place over 60NM from land.
We can attest to the fact that 2020 was indeed a terrible year for the Gulf of Guinea and indeed for Nigeria as the leading nation within that region.
For Nigeria, year 2020 ended with piracy, crew kidnapping and ransom taking, and as recent as last week, the daredevil pirates of Nigerian descent were still in active operation.
Also, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) cautioned the Nigerian government and other West African leaders on the need beef security within the coastline. The warning followed the recent attack in the Gulf of Guinea, which led to the death of a seafarer with another 15 seafarers held hostage.
Head of Marine Standards at Copenhagen-based Maersk, Aslak Ross, said the risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed, adding that it is unacceptable in this age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for the region without having to worry about the risk of piracy.
The Executive Director of the Accra-based Centre for Maritime Law and Security Africa and a former Ghanaian naval officer, Kamal-Deen Ali, stated that while the West African attacks were initially concentrated offshore Nigeria, they have since spread to waters off Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Togo and Cameroon.
Recall that, 25 African governments, including all those bordering on the Gulf of Guinea, signed the Yaoundé Code of Conduct in 2013 to tackle piracy, which was aimed at facilitating information sharing and established five maritime zones to be jointly patrolled. The pact has been partially implemented while most navies remain focused on safeguarding their territorial waters.
Apparently handy with the Yaoundé Code of Conduct of 2013, the European Union (EU) has now come up with its self-serving interventionist programme against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
The EU Council said, at the end of its meeting in Brussels that it has plans to launch the pilot case of what it called Coordinated Maritime Presences concept in the Gulf of Guinea.
We are aware that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has a working relationship with both the Nigeria Navy and the Nigeria Air Force. There is a subsisting Memorandum of Understanding exclusively for maritime safety. The essence of the MoU is because NIMASA, even though a maritime safety agency, can not bear arms.
Apart from this, there is an existing 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.
Sadly, the two MoUs have failed to stem the tide of piracy in Nigerian waters. Sadly, also the anti-piracy law which was enacted to deter piracy has not been tested by NIMASA.
This brings us to the persistent call for the creation of a purpose-made body to fight piracy and related crimes in Nigeria. Called by any name; be it: Maritime Security Agency or Coast Guard, the fact is that, NIMASA and its collaborators have obviously shown lack of capacity.
We are aware of the arrangements for the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, also called the Deep Blue Project, which is expected to be the central security structure for all anchorage areas in the Nigerian maritime domain.
But, the fact is that, the world can no longer wait for this project. In the typical Nigerian way, it is taking ages to come on stream.
Another fact is that, the C3i (Command, Control and Intelligence) center at the Nigerian Ports Authourity and NIMASA’s c4i, as well as the Navy’s Falcon Eye, are all uncoordinated individualistic platforms.
If all these platforms are coordinated, may be the fight against piracy would have recorded significant success.
We sincerely have our reservation about the EU’s incursion in the name of assistance, it is our firm belief that, no matter how well-intentioned it is, it remains an international mission.
The long term reality is that; it is only nations in the Gulf of Guinea that can fight piracy within their region. And, in this fight, Nigeria can not be in the background.