The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is set to deploy its war planes to fight piracy on Nigerian waters.
Indications to this effect came to the fore yesterday during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and NAF at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja.
Under the new working arrangement between both parties, NAF airborne assets namely the ATR 42 MPA, the Mi-35P, Augusta Light Utility Helicopters, and where necessary, Alpha Jet aircrafts and associated platforms, will be deployed to complement NIMASA’s other collaborative efforts with other government agencies to fight criminal activities on the nation’s territorial waters.
Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, said that at the MoU signing ceremony that NAF has the capability to “go deep into the sea to cover our EEC (Exclusive Economic Zone) and see what is happening there.”
The NAF Chief described as unacceptable, a situation where criminals carry out nefarious activities in the nation’s territorial waters with impunity.
“With this MoU with NIMASA, we will be able to identify where the criminal elements are, mount surveillance on their activities and make it more difficult for them to operate,” Badeh stated, even as he solicited financial support for research and development in the Air Force from NIMASA.
Speaking earlier, Director-General of NIMASA, Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, said that, while the Agency has received support from NAF in the past, it has become imperative to formalise the working arrangement between both organisations.
“This MoU that we are signing today will send a clear message to oil thieves and other criminals on our waters that their days are numbered,” Akpobolokemi said.
He said that NIMASA will provide necessary logistics support and funding to the Air Force to maintain security on the waters.
“We won’t allow bureaucracy to cripple implementation of this MoU,” the NIMASA helmsman stated, even as he expressed hope that oil theft will be substantially reduced over the next one year.
He said: “The incidence of crude oil theft, sea robbery and piracy are the foremost reasons the Agency has approached the Nigerian Air Force to strike a formidable operation framework that would enable the deployment of age-long air surveillance excellence of the Nigerian Air Force. Recent successful joint operations of the Agency with the Nigerian Navy (NN) and the Nigerian Air Force have given impetus to the need to consummate this partnership.
“As we formally endorse the agreement to widen the nation’s frontiers of maritime security, we expect that legitimate shipping, oil and gas activities on Nigerian waters will begin to contribute immensely to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We assure the Nigerian Air Force that this MoU and its objectives will be pursued in the best interest of nation building and that of the Nigerian maritime industry. The high command of the Nigerian Air Force, led by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Sabundu Badeh, has openly demonstrated in this MoU that our marine resources and water ways hold the key to Nigeria’s economic development.”
NIMASA and NAF will cooperate in the areas of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations; Search and Rescue operations at sea; Tactical Airlift Operations; and Enforcement Action that include, but not limited to, anti-piracy, anti-smuggling; illegal bunkering and illegal fishing activities.
“Hot pursuit may be carried out as allowed under international law and NAF operational guidelines,” terms of the MoU, sighted by SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, stated in part.
One A. H. Bakare was appointed as the Desk officer of the MoU in NAF Headquarters, while Capt. Enusuoh Warredi, Acting Director of Shipping Development is the Desk Officer at NIMASA.
NIMASA has an existing MoU with the Nigerian Navy which gave rise to the establishment of the Maritime Guard Command at NIMASA.
Kidnappings of sailors on merchant ships in waters off Nigeria and nearby countries surged in the first half as pirates attacked a broader range of vessels and sought targets farther out at sea.
Pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea, believed to be operating from Nigeria, kidnapped 30 crew in the period, compared with three seized worldwide in 2012’s first six months, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a London-based group tracking sea crime, said in a report in July.
Attackers previously tended to seek out ships involved in the regional oil industry and now are targeting container ships and other merchant vessels, IMB said.
The increase poses a new threat to trade at a time when naval forces, armed guards and better on-board security are quelling attacks off Africa’s eastern coast.
West and Central African leaders recently signed a code of conduct to repress attacks.
“If these attacks are left unchecked, they will become more frequent, bolder and more violent,” IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan said in the report.