A fortnight ago, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a specialized department of the International Chamber of Commerce, released its report for the first quarter of 2019, showing an increased level of safety in the Nigerian maritime domain.
The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre said no vessel was reported hijacked in the period under review, making it the first time Nigeria is having such record since the first quarter of 1994.
The report noted that in the first quarter of 2019, Nigeria experienced a decrease in reported piracy incidents, compared to the same period in 2018. According to the Bureau, Nigeria reported 14 incidents of piracy for Q1 2019, in comparison to 22 incidents during the corresponding period in 2018. This is despite being a hotspot for piracy incidents over the past decade.
One can recall that the IMB in its half year report last year, said there was an alarming increase in the number of piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, with incidents rising from 16 in 2017 to 46 in 2018, and Nigeria’s waters alone accounting for 31 incidents.
According to IMB’s recent report there was a great improvement in the efforts by the Nigerian Navy to actively respond to reported incidents in the Nigerian maritime domain. It commended the Navy for its quick responses in dispatching patrol boats to scenes of piracy attacks.
The IMB Director, Pottengal Mukundan, in a statement, disclosed that Nigeria was gaining advantage from coordinated responses to incidents via its maritime regulatory agency, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy.
This is indeed encouraging news for Nigeria. For the first time since 1994, Nigeria is being commended by IMB in the first quarter of the year for relative safety on her territorial waters. In other words, instead of the usual damning report about unsafe waters of Nigeria with escalating incidents of piracy and armed robbery, the Bureau declared Nigeria’s waters safe in the first quarter of the year.
We commend the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) for this feat. We are happy to note that the cooperation between the two government agencies is beginning to yield fruit. We, however, join the IMB Director to call for sustenance of the collaborative effort. As encouraging as the latest statistics is, it does not give cause for relaxation or celebration, in the belief that things are getting better. As observed by IMB, this first quarter statistics should not be a basis to anticipate trends through the rest of the year, as it’s too short a period.
Hence, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre still cautioned that despite these efforts, Nigerian waters remain risky for vessels, especially the port of Lagos where four incidents have been reported.
According to IMB, the drop in piracy incidents in Nigeria and in other parts of the world “confirms the importance of information sharing and coordinated action between the industry and response agencies. Going forward, it is critical to continue to build a more effective reporting structure to enable a strong, unified response when dealing with piracy incidents.” The declining rate of piracy reinforces the importance of transparency, communication, and coordination between vessels and coastal authorities, IMB stressed.
We believe that all the security agencies in Nigeria, not only NIMASA and the Navy, will heed this advice in their fight against piracy, crime and terrorism. It is gratifying to note that Nigeria is beginning to see the importance of inter-agency cooperation which is manifested in information sharing and coordinated action. The era of paying lip service to inter-agency cooperation should be over.
In the light of this, we must commend the current efforts by the federal government to rid the nation’s territorial waters of all forms of criminalities as well as in the Gulf of Guinea through the Integrated Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, otherwise known as the Deep Blue Project. The Project seems to be in line with the recommendation of IMB above for nations to build a strong reporting structure.
The Deep Blue Project is, indeed, an ambitious effort towards addressing illegality in Nigeria’s territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea. According to the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, the project is multifaceted and involves the training of selected officers from the various strata of the security services and NIMASA as well as acquisition of assets to combat maritime crime.
We believe that with total dedication and resolve, the Deep Blue Project with its multipronged approach will go a long way in tackling insecurity in our territorial waters and the entire Gulf of Guinea. The training being given to the operatives of the project and the acquisition of assets, such as fast intervention vessels, surveillance aircraft, and other facilities are to be commended. Of particular interest also is the command and control centre for data collection and information sharing among security agencies –a facility that will help immensely in achieving targeted objectives.
The assurance of the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, to the IMB report is also reassuring. According to him, NIMASA will continue to do all in its powers, within the ambit of the law, to ensure that piracy in Nigerian territorial waters was drastically reduced, if not eradicated.
Nigerians and the IMB would like to see this statement matched with action, especially with two incidents recorded less than one week after the IMB report. Just as stakeholders were basking in the euphoria of the IMB first quarter report, there were two incidents of piracy and armed robbery in Nigeria’s waters.
On Monday April 15, 2019 the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre reported that daring armed pirates had attacked a product in Nigeria’s waters. It said four pirates armed with automatic weapons came with a speed boat and attacked the vessel at Bonny Inner Anchorage. The incident came few days after a Spanish warship rescued Nigerian seafarers from pirates who had held them hostage for four days.
These two incidents, coming on the heels of each other, detract from Nigeria’s scorecard in piracy incidents in the first quarter of the year. This should not be allowed to continue. We, however, commend the gallantry of the Nigerian naval guards onboard the vessel who returned fire after the pirates had boarded the ship and started shooting. The response by the naval guards was reported to have shocked the armed pirates, forcing them to hurry into their boat and escaping.
The Navy and NIMASA should not allow die-hard pirates and criminals to rubbish the IMB recent report on Nigeria’s waters. They should rather ensure that they build on the report to reduce piracy incidents in Nigeria’s waters to the barest minimum, if not totally eliminated. The National Assembly should also identify with this fight against piracy by passing the anti-piracy bill without further delay.