Year 2020 and the battle against piracy on Nigeria’s waters

Pirates kidnap 20 Indians, spare Nigerian seafarer off Togo

 

Maritime stakeholders and Nigerians who are worried about the state of insecurity of the nation’s maritime domain have a reason to believe that this year 2020 is a decisive year in the battle against piracy, kidnappings, hijacking and all manner of criminal activities on our territorial waters. The necessary security and military hardware are being procured and the training of the personnel to man them is almost completed.

By the end of the first quarter of the year, the necessary arsenal must have been assembled to give the criminals that trouble our waters a run for their money. This optimism is predicated on the statements and assurances of the relevant authorities whose mandate is to ensure the security of our waterways.

During his maiden press briefing for the year, last month in Lagos, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Dr. Dakuku Peterside reassured the nation of government’s commitment and determination to ensure that the country’s territorial waters was free of piracy and all forms of maritime crime in 2020. This, he said, was to further boost investment opportunities in the blue economy.

To underscore the reason why the stakeholders and the entire nation should believe that the criminals that have been having a field day on the country’s waters would be got rid of this year, he said under the $195 million maritime security contract with an Israeli firm (HSLI) four interceptor vessels and the second special mission vessel will arrive the country before the end of February to add to the ones that had earlier arrived.

He also disclosed that NIMASA has built capacity to track ships coming and leaving Nigeria, as well as the ability to do a five-year profile on ships to identify and track vessels of interest and know the ones likely to be involved in illegal activities. He observed that there was an upsurge in maritime crime incidents in Nigeria’s waters, a situation he saw as quite embarrassing.

“The big issue for us is security. It is unfortunate that in the last quarter of last year, there was a spike in the number of piracy attacks and maritime breaches of security incidents within our coastal waters. It is embarrassing but we are tackling it head on,” he had said.

“HLSI is helping us acquire assets ahead of time. Last year December, the special mission vessel got into the country and this month, a number of interceptor vessels will come into the country.

“The second special mission vessel will come in by early February. The idea is to respond whenever there is a threat of criminality on our waterways. We are doing a lot of things in that area and we hope that result will begin to yield by second quarter of this year,” Dakuku told the journalists.

The NIMASA boss said that there would be “significant drop in issue of piracy and maritime crimes within our coastal waters because without safety and security, nobody can optimize the benefits of trading within our waters.”

Altogether, under the Deep Blue Project and the HSLI contract, Nigeria is expecting two special mission aircraft, three helicopters and unmanned air vehicles. Others are two special mission vessels and 17 interceptor patrol crafts. There would also be land assets which include 16 armoured vehicles and an intervention team of 340 highly trained personnel. The project also involves the acquisition of satellite technology to monitor Nigeria’s exclusive economic zone and feed real time information to a command and control centre.

These massive security assets when eventually deployed would no doubt drastically reduce if not eliminate maritime crimes from the nation’s waters. Most of these assets are said to have arrived, and the communication technology acquired. All these were confirmed by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, in May last year.

“We won a contract of $195 million approved by the president to ensure that we have maritime security. So, they bought equipment and they just arrived the seaport and we are clearing. They are bringing in two helicopters, 20 speedboats with flat bottom, because of Niger Delta, and communication equipment. All those have arrived Nigeria and we believe they will be fixed in the next one to two months.”

With aplomb the minister had added, “This will enable us see Nigerian waters from anywhere and also make us see those who do bunkering and those who kidnap people in the water. We will know whether they will be faster than the camera or not. Since the equipment have arrived and we have already trained personnel, the moment they finish installing the equipment, then criminal activities on the waterways will be checked.”

However, it is nine months since Amaechi made these assertions. The nation had been waiting for the arrival of most of the maritime security equipment, while the ones that have arrived appear not yet assembled and deployed.

Meanwhile, piracy and criminal incidents in Nigeria’s waters have continued to rise. In the last quarter of last year and the beginning of this year the rate has risen to an embarrassing level. A few weeks ago, a Maersk container vessel, Maersk Tema, was attacked off Bonny coast. The vessel was 200 nautical miles South West Bonny and was underway from Point Noir to Lagos when it was attacked. This was coming on the heels of another serious attack on a bulk carrier, Vinalines Mighty, 40 nautical miles off the same Bonny.

The frequency and ferocity of these piracy attacks call for pro-active and urgent action. Industry operators and experts have been pointing at the relative lack of established security presence in the waters beyond the Nigerian EEZ, a situation pirates have been exploiting.

While the nation waits for the maturity or the takeoff of the Deep Blue Project or for the Israeli firm to fully execute the maritime security contract, something has to be done to stop the ever-rising insecurity on the nation’s waters. We cannot abandon our maritime domain for the criminals until we are ready to fight them. It’s high time the authorities stopped fighting the pirates with words.

Maritime observers believe that all the necessary weapons have been made available, including the law against piracy that has been lacking over time. The Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act 2019 is now in place, which for the first time criminalizes piracy and other maritime crimes in Nigeria, and imposes severe consequences on offenders. So, let the war begin.

The concerned authorities should know that after all said and done, the nation expects that this year 2020 should see the beginning of, if not the end of piracy and criminal activities on the nation’s waters. We cannot continue preparing for war while the enemy continues to shout in triumph in our homestead.

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