NNS Thunder and a junket to Australia

The Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS Thunder, recently departed Nigeria through Calabar, the Cross River State capital, Down Under-bound to represent Africa for the Royal Australian Navy’s International Fleet Review (IFR) slated for October 3 -11th, 2013, in the Australian capital, Sydney. Nigeria is joining about 50 other countries from across the world, including Russia, the United States of America (USA), and South Africa, being the second African country to represent the continent in the international event, which will be reviewed by the Queen of England to mark the 200 years battle of Trafalgar.
Speaking at the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) Jetty in Calabar, the take-off point of the NNS Thunder that is conveying 40 Officers and 140 Ratings of Nigerian Navy (NN), the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Joe Aikhomu, said that the voyage to Sidney is a friendly and diplomatic expedition, urging the crew to see the mission as a training programme meant to enhance the Navy’s proficiency.
While the vessel and her crew are expected to be back to Nigeria within the next four to five months, NNS THUNDER will be making outbound port calls at Luanda, Angola; Cape Town, South Africa; Port Louis, Mauritius; Freemantle, Southampton, United Kingdom (UK); and Sydney, Australia, and, on the in-bound leg, visit Melbourne and Albany, both in Australia; Port Des Galet, Reunion; Durban and Walvis Bay, both in South Africa; and Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo.
With the world transformed into a global village, no component unit, therefore, really stands as an island. But then the world can only be one big happy global village, if only there is an outflow of abundance of happiness from the various components. While it stirs great nationalistic feelings of pride that a Nigerian Navy Ship is part of the Royal Australian Navy’s IFR, we cannot help but raise a certain germane question. Why would the NN, which, at every point in time, laments a dearth of much-needed platforms in the face of growing insecurity of Nigerian maritime domain, decide to dedicate what is obviously Nigeria’s most seaworthy Naval vessel to an event that is simply a colonial outpost (Australia) celebrating the colonial master (United Kingdom)? What is the relevance of commemorating the 200 years of the battle of Trafalgar to the NN, in particular, and Nigerians generally?

Pirate attacks off West Africa’s mineral-rich Gulf of Guinea (GoA) have almost doubled from last year and threaten to increase the costs and jeopardise the shipping of commodities from the region, SHIPS & PORTS DAILY has reported severally. The Gulf of Guinea, which includes Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, is a major source of oil and cocoa and increasingly metals for world markets, although international Navies are not actively engaged in counter-piracy missions in the region. Unlike waters off Somalia and the Horn of Africa, where ships can transit past at high speed with armed guards on board, many vessels have to anchor off West African coastal nations, with little protection, making them a soft target for criminals.
A study published recently showed piracy in the Gulf of Guinea cost the world economy between $740 million and $950 million last year and that figure is expected to grow in 2013. Kaija Hurlburt of advocacy group Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), which co-authored the report, said that the type of vessels attacked had become more diverse. “The impact on the commercial trade sector is a problem,” she said. A separate study by OBP earlier this year estimated the cost of Somali piracy fell 12.5 per cent in 2012 to $5.7 billion – $6.1 billion, helped by vigorous Navy action, the deployment of private armed security guards and defensive measures on ships. In contrast, the World Bank in April estimated Somali piracy may still cost the world economy about $18 billion a year.
Data from industry watchdog, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), another of the latest study’s authors, showed attacks in the Gulf of Guinea for the year to date (earlier this year) reached 67 incidents, versus 34 in the same period last year. These included five attacks off Togo, versus five in the same period last year. Apart from the fear of increasingly-violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, the study said that seafarers were concerned that authorities in the region could not be relied upon. “We had a ‘port inspection’ and they took eight tins of paint, two coils of rope, and several bottles of whiskey,” one seafarer said in the report. “If the ‘authorities’ do this, who do we rely on for help?”
Only recently, the Joint War Committee, which groups syndicate members from the Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA), as well as representatives from London’s insurance company market, added Togo to its list of high risk areas for merchant shipping, which already includes Nigeria and Benin. “We were recognising the trend of increased risk to the assets the market insures,” LMA Senior Executive Neil Roberts said, adding: “All the reports indicate the situation will continue for a while. We need to be alive to that as insurers.”
The study, which was also put together by industry alliance the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme, estimated the total insurance cost for the Gulf of Guinea last year was between $423 million to $437 million. “We expect, especially with the expansion of the high risk zone by the Joint War Committee, that is going to lead to a higher cost of insurance,” OBP’s Hurlburt said.
“We have already seen a greater number of kidnappings for ransoms,” she said. “There might be a higher cost for private security as we move forward.”
Analysts say, while Somali gangs have focused on capturing vessels to extract ransom money, criminality in West Africa, including oil theft, poses more complex problems. And yet, the Nigerian Navy, like a man chasing rats as his house burns, has sent NNS Thunder on what is at best a junket.