Stakeholders in the nation’s maritime industry have blamed the failure of security agencies and the challenge of effective policing as the reasons the Nigerian Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Anti-Piracy Act is yet to successfully prosecute any pirate.
Recall that the NIMASA Anti-Piracy bill was passed into law on July 3, 2019 after President Buhari gave his assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill, 2019, in an unprecedented move billed to bring a dramatic improvement in security on the country’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.
However almost a year after the bill was passed, the Anti-Piracy law is yet to really prosecute any pirates till date.
Speaking with our correspondent recently, a maritime lawyer; Mr Emeka Akabogu blamed lack of effective policing on the nation’s water to deter piracy as to the reason the law is yet to take effect, stating that pirates can only be prosecuted when they are captured.
He said: “I doubt if the problem is one of prosecution, it's more likely a challenge of effective policing. The maritime domain must be fully covered to ensure that incidents occurring anywhere can be easily identified and that there are adequate assets to respond quickly.
“You can only prosecute if there are captured suspects and the facts are there to sustain the charges sought.
“The first hurdle therefore, is one of effective policing of the waters to deter piracy, and where they still venture to operate, to capture pirates”.
Akabogu stated that there must be inter-agency cooperation between NIMASA and other law enforcement agencies, including the Nigerian Navy in other to get the pirates arrested.
“Be mindful also that the Act requires inter-agency cooperation between NIMASA and other law enforcement agencies, including the Nigerian Navy so that is an area that also needs to be improved upon”
“Useful questions in this respect will include – How many rapid-response platforms are available to deploy for enforcement? Where are they deployed? Where are the high-risk or high-incidence areas? What is the communication backbone between operating vessels and the Command Centre? What is the response time between a distress call and deployment of platforms? And many more. There must be an end-to-end process that honestly acknowledges current capacity and optimises same in areas of highest need” he said.
Reacting to the release of the 10 pirates and the vessel captured by Nigerian Navy and handed over for prosecution by NIMASA, the maritime lawyer said the act provides for consultation with home countries of suspects where the suspects are foreign nationals.
“I didn't know the captured pirates were handed back to their home countries, the last I heard was that they would be prosecuted. Nonetheless, the Act requires the Minister to issue regulations for its effective implementation, and I am aware that NIMASA is currently putting that together. The Act also provides for consultation with home countries of suspects where the suspects are foreign nationals, so we should not discount the likelihood that some bilateral arrangements have been made with the respective countries of the suspects if indeed they have been handed over to those countries.
“The law is still relatively new, NIMASA has had a change of management and COVID-19 has disrupted things a bit, so I will give NIMASA the benefit of doubt. End of year may be a better time to assess the performance on the Act”. He said.
Speaking also, Capt Taiwo Akinpelumi, a member of the Nigeria Indigenous Ship Owners Association (NISA) blamed security agencies for failing to get pirates arrested as the reason the act has not been able to prosecute any pirates, he said it is only when pirates are apprehended that they can be prosecuted.
“The Anti-Piracy Act has not been tested; not because there have been culprits brought to books, as a matter of fact, there are attacks going on the sea, but no one was apprehended by the security agencies, there is no one to be persecuted.
“However, the issue of the vessel that has been apprehended and handed over to Ghanaian government which happened recently was because the vessel is Ghanaian flag and the investigations by the Navy indicated that the vessel was never linked to any criminal activity, although the vessel actually switched off its AIS, the reason the vessel gave was that they were trying to ship themselves away from pirates and sea robbers” he said.
On his part, President of National Association of Master Mariners (NAMM); Capt Tajudeen Alao said the recent arrest of the 10 pirates by the Nigerian Navy will serve as deterrent to other pirates in the Gulf, even though they will be prosecuted by their various countries.
“With the arrest of the pirates, this is another big kudos to the leadership of NIMASA and Navy, our waters are not safe; fishermen are complaining that ships moving from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ are being intercepted, so arresting this people will be a big lesson and serve as deterrent to people in the act.
“So NIMASA has done well and I think we need to rally around the leadership to make sure we get things done properly”, he said.