Growing piracy in Nigeria

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More than ever before, sea piracy is at an increasing rate in Nigeria. The incidence of sea piracy in the country is not a new phenomenon; it has been one of the major debilitating factors for the development of our maritime industry. The international dimension of the impact of piracy on the maritime industry worldwide has necessitated concerted global efforts at curbing the dangerous menace. Worldwide, in the first three months of 2018, 100 crew were taken hostage and 14 kidnapped from their vessels. A total of 39 vessels were boarded, 11 fired upon and four vessels hijacked. This has been a reoccurring challenge for many years.

It is response to this that the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which is the United Nations specialized agency for global standard-setting for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping, started the issuance of incidents reports of piracy in 1982. The report usually derived from data and information submitted by IMO Member Governments as well as appropriate regional and international organizations, provides an overview of safety of international waters in order to inform appropriate decision making in the maritime industry, especially for shippers and other stakeholders in the industry. Since the start of the report more than 30 years ago, it has become the reference point in gauging the incidence of piracy worldwide.

For many years now the Nigerian waterways have remained in the unenviable category of most porous in the world. According to the IMO report for first and second quarters of 2018, Nigeria ranks top in countries with the highest number of recorded attacks against vessels. Nigeria alone accounted for a total of 22 of the 45 attacks recorded in the first three months of 2018. Officially, Nigeria has displaced the war torn country of Somalia, which is notorious for sea piracy, in the shameful category of countries with unsafe waterways. Surprisingly, the notorious Somalia waters did not record any incident in Q2’18.

The report concludes that out of the 46 incidents recorded in Gulf of Guinea region so far in the year, 31 of those incidents were logged from Nigeria’s territorial waters alone. In other words, Nigeria alone is responsible for 67.39 per cent of the total piracy incidents recorded in the Gulf of Guinea in the year 2018 so far. The report further reveals that whilst the incidence of crew kidnappings has reduced worldwide, all the 25 crew members that were kidnapped in the first half of the year from six incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, were off the coast of Nigeria. As a result of these notorious attacks, Nigeria now occupies the infamous category with Indonesia, Bangladesh, Venezuela and Benin Republic that are the leading countries in the number of attempted attacks, number of vessels boarded by pirates, number of vessels fired upon, number of hijacked vessels and number of suspicious boats operated by pirates. This report is an indictment on the safety of Nigerian waterways with a huge potential to create a negative perception of the country in the global maritime arena.

The report has consequently generated diverse reactions from stakeholders in the industry. Whilst some practitioners who understand the menace, and are not oblivious to the increasing spate, are unsurprised about the IMO report, the government has since protested the report sighting it as unreflective of the efforts of the agencies of government in fighting sea piracy. Responding to the report, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Peterside Dakuku simply dismissed the report making reference to the influence of international politics. “Unfortunately, there is a bit of international politics in what is going on and those who do not understand what is going on will not understand,” he said. Explaining further, Dr. Dakuku said “Piracy is different from other forms of maritime crime but what has happened to us in the International Maritime Bureau is that if there is kidnap in the inland waters, it is recorded as piracy for us, if there is kidnap in the inland waters in Europe, it is called kidnap, it is not piracy.” He was however quick to add that, “I am not saying that kidnap in inland waters is good. But many things are classified as pirate attacks in Nigeria and indeed other forms of crimes that are not pirate attacks.

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“But whether they are pirate attacks or not, it is immaterial, we should not harbor crime within our maritime space. And to tackle it, for the first time as a country, we are making huge investment in maritime security.”

There are many other maritime stakeholders who share in this sentiment that the international community seem to be perpetuating an unspoken conspiracy to portray Nigeria negatively in the global maritime space for their selfish interests. This theory is reinforced by the fact that international shipping companies make more from higher freight insurance for coming to supposedly dangerous waters of Nigeria.

In an attempt to fight the growing nature of piracy in the country, successive administrations had instituted diverse security measures including acquisition of equipment for the Nigerian Navy, and contractual agreements with foreign security outfits to support the Navy. Earlier in the year, the Nigerian Navy reported that 179 high-speed boats have been acquired in the last one year to checkmate activities of pirates and oil theft in the Nigerian maritime space. Briefing the press in Abuja, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Rear Admiral Ibok Ete-Ibas, represented by Chief of Naval Transformation, Naval Headquarters, Rear Admiral Begroy Ibe-Enwo disclosed that “These boats have gone a long way in bolstering Nigerian Navy’s capacity to police and carry out survey of Nigeria’s maritime environment.” The Navy have also been involved in diverse international cooperative endeavours such as “Obangame Express 2018,” which brings together 24 other countries on a multinational sea exercise against piracy, oil theft and other maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea (GOG).

To further address the issue, NIMASA had entered into a security arrangement with an international security firm, Global West Specialist Vessels Limited, which allows the latter to earn a percentage of income the former collects from ships using the Nigerian waterways. The contract was later cancelled by President Muhammadu Buhari upon assumption of office. In place of this arrangement, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi entered into another arrangement with an Israeli firm HLSI Firm Security and Technology for $195 million over a three-year period, in which the firm was meant to supply an undisclosed number of special mission aircraft, special mission helicopters and 12 fast intervention vessels for the Nigerian Navy. Again, this arrangement attracted concerns of stakeholders and the national assembly had to intervene through a public hearing. At the hearing, Amaechi defended the contract by saying: “The Navy has been tested in securing and protection of our waterways despite having all the equipment you can imagine yet we still have cases of our brothers and sisters being kidnapped, raped and killed every day so we decided that look let’s bring in this people who will work with our Armed Forces and train them for three years.” And in this regard, “The Israelis have assured us that after the training of our security operatives, such harassment and attacks on our waterways will not happen again. They even said we should hold them accountable if such harassment persists on our waterways after the training. That is one achievement that has happened under our leadership in the maritime sector.” Due to the persistent condemnation that trailed the contract, President Buhari eventually cancelled the contract and ordered HLSI to supply items equivalent to the $50 million paid up-front.

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Whilst the Nigerian Navy is the primary agency of government responsible for securing the nation’s waterways, the foregoing shows that the force has been having a hard time dealing with this menace. Hence the option of contracting foreign security firms to support the Navy in its fight against piracy, which really has not translated to a drop in the rate of piracy in the country. Besides, it is plausible that the increase in the spate of piracy in the current year may have been further aided by the inconsistencies in our security arrangements to protect the coastal areas in the country in the past two years. The solution to Nigeria’s piracy challenges lies in effective administration and empowerment of the Navy. It is difficult to blame the Navy for their inability to significantly combat piracy when there is clearly a dearth of resources – training and equipment. A review of strategy for the funding of the Navy and its structure will likely impact positively on their operations. The situation also places a burden on the national assembly to urgently pass into law the anti-piracy bill before it. The existing laws in the country have been unfavourable to the fight against piracy, and as stated by the DG of NIMASA this has been responsible for the absence of any conclusive piracy case in recent times.

As much as the maritime administrators in the country may find it easy to dismiss the international piracy report that portrays the country negatively, the fact still remains that piracy is major challenge in the country that must be tackled headlong. Tackling this scourge also requires concerted efforts across all tiers of government, including other stakeholders in the maritime industry.