Despite the urgent need of resources for development, Nigeria is currently experiencing a huge revenue leakage through oil theft and various forms of criminality involving loss of lives at sea, leaving the country with another major security concern. In this report, SAMSON ECHENIM examines the steps the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is currently taking to curtail the ugly situation
It is not easy to ascertain exactly how much Nigeria loses to oil thieves, but figures from relevant authorities indicate that an average of 150,000 barrels of crude oil is lost daily to oil bunkering. In monetary terms, the value amounts to about $16 million (N2.5 billion) leading to an annual loss of N900 billion by the country to unpatriotic and criminal citizens.
But Bismarck Rewane, Chief Executive Officer of Financial Derivatives Company (FDC) Limited, in his Bi-Monthly economic publication said the annual loss from these leakage activities is approximately $5 billion (N800 billion) or seven per cent of total government revenue to leakages such as oil theft.
It is alleged that while theft of refined products is prevalent in the Lagos maritime domain, dare-devil pirates that attack tankers often target crude oil-laden vessels. This they sell to waiting vessels while some quantity is used to feed the numerous illegal refineries scattered in the creeks and all over the Niger Delta. Fishermen and people doing legitimate business in the country’s waters are attacked by gunmen on a near-daily basis, who cart away their produce and money.
According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), “West African pirates have been increasingly attacking ships further and further from shore. It is generally believed that in the next three months, the areas of highest risk will be the Bight of Bonny East of 006°E, offshore rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states and their waterways, including the Bonny and Calabar Rivers”.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) believes there are more incidences of piracy in the country’s waters than are reported.
“Many of the raids have involved high levels of violence, kidnappings, and were increasingly occurring further offshore,” IBM said in a recent report.
The bureau places Nigeria second on world’s piracy hotspots after war-torn Somalia. According to IMB, compared with Somalia, attacks off West African coast (Nigeria and Benin) are more violent.
On August 4, pirates suspected to be Nigerians attacked a Dutch oil boat, killing two Nigerian naval guards and kidnapping four foreigners. The incident is the latest in the long list of pirates attacks on the nation’s coastal waters.
Early in the year, the erstwhile Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Austen Oniwon had raised the alarm that oil thieves might one day take over the machinery of government in the country.
He said pipeline vandalism currently presents the single biggest threat to the smooth operation of the petroleum industry in the country.
He said, “In the last few months, we have lost millions of dollars in shut-in oil wells as a result of the activities of oil thieves, who breach our crude lines to steal oil. So far, the Trans-Forcadoes and the Trans-Niger Trunk lines have been shut-in due to attack on the facilities by thieves.
“These criminals steal both crude and refined petroleum products and sell same to enrich their pockets; we must work collectively to stop them.”
Realising the daunting task of eliminating oil thieves, the federal government last month inaugurated an inter-agency maritime operation committee, chaired by Rear Admiral E. O. Ogboh, to address the issue of illegal bunkering in the nation’s maritime waters. Members of the inter-agency maritime operation committee are drawn from the NNPC, Nigerian Navy, Air Force, Customs, Police, the State Security Service and the judiciary.
However, as the major government agency responsible for the safety and security of the nation’s maritime environment, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in recent time has intensified efforts at responding to these growing insecurity and illegalities in the nation’s territorial waters.
The present management of the agency is known to have been confronting the oil thieves and those who engage in various kinds of illegal businesses on Nigerian waters headlong, arresting, seizing and detaining many up to 50 suspected vessels and more vessels found to breach any of the provisions of the NIMASA, Cabotage and the Merchant Shipping acts in the last one year.
Apart from its co-operation with the Nigerian Navy through the Maritime Guard Command, the agency has also put in place other measures to deal with the menace.
Last week, the director-general of NIMASA, Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, raised the alarm over proliferation of arms and ammunition in Nigerian waters, vowing to fight the oil theft, piracy and sea robbery menaces to a standstill.
The agency has been checking the menace through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigerian Navy and recently, it received four high-powered boats from its security platforms provisions concessionaire, the Global West Vessels Specialist Ltd, which said the boats could go as far as 200 nautical miles into the sea.
The four boats were part of the concession contract signed by NIMASA with the private security firm in February this year.
Under the strategic concession partnership contract, Global West would provide NIMASA the platforms for tracking of ships and cargoes as well as to enforce regulatory compliance. It will also enable NIMASA carry out comprehensive surveillance of the nation’s maritime domain with the view to combating criminal activities.
While taking delivery of the boats which are part of the about 20 of such boats expected under the contract at the Nigerian Maritime Resource Centre, Kirikiri, Lagos, the Director-General of NIMASA, Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolekemi, said the boats were of high standard and are the fastest boats on the nation’s waters.
He said that the boats namely, NIMASA Port Harcourt, NIMASA Lagos, NIMASA Burutu and NIMASA Warri with speed capacity of 50 nautical miles per hour, could withstand any adverse condition and would help NIMASA to effectively combat illegal activities in the country’s maritime environment, thus enabling the agency to fulfil one of its core responsibilities of ensuring that the nation’s waters are safe for navigation.
“The boats are to enable us go back to our mandate. With this kind of facility, we have edged into our critical statutory obligation. From environment through safety to security, what the NIMASA Act empowers us to do is what we want to put into practice”, Akpobolokemi said.
Mr. Akpobolokemi who was speaking after a test-run exercise of the boats added: “What we have done is to get the private sector to provide these boats and man them while we will work in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy in keeping security and safety and in keeping the environmental laws. This is just the beginning, more and more vessels of different configurations are coming”.
Also speaking at the event, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of GWVSL, Capt. Romeo Itima, said each of the boats had four outboard engines, each with 300 horsepower and totalling 1,200 horsepower. He said the engines and body of the boats were bullet proof, thereby making it difficult for the pirates to target the crew on board.
He explained that each of the boats had a tank capacity of 1,500 litres and can do 200 nautical miles before refuelling and are equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
Capt. Itima disclosed that 16 other boats to be supplied by the company as part of the contract with NIMASA were already being constructed around the world and would arrive the country before the end of September this year. He said the boats that are meant for Port Harcourt and Warri would be deployed immediately for effective coverage of the zone.
The arrival of the latest security platforms will no doubt improve the agency’s efforts and reduce cost of combating criminality at sea, as experts believe that the task was hitherto carried out with hired boats at very exorbitant costs.
“With the boats, NIMASA can now police the critical areas in the nation’s maritime domain especially the oil platforms which was not possible when NIMASA was hiring vessels,” Engr. Benjamin Adesanya, a maritime consultant to the IMO said.
Sadly, Captain Romeo Itima passed on on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 during a military operation against crude oil thieves and sea-robbers around the Warri pilotage district.
According to a statement made available to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY by Captain Winifred Itima on behalf of the family and GWVSL, burial arrangements will be made known to the public in due course.
However, speaking to journalists at a maritime roundtable in Lagos on “Issues in Enforcement of NIMASA Act 2007”, NIMASA’s Board Secretary and Legal Adviser, Mr. Matthew Egbadon said, “It is common knowledge that the agency’s operations require its officers to be able to move from one place to another within the maritime domain.
“Over the years, the agency lacked the necessary platforms for the use of its staff. The acquisition of these platforms will enable the agency discharge its responsibilities in effective maritime patrols to ensure security in the maritime domain; check midstream discharges with the concomitant impact on revenue generation; detect incidents of pollution of waters; carry out its search and rescue responsibility and enforce the provisions of the Cabotage Act.”
Also as part of the efforts to confront the menace of criminals on the nation’s territorial waters, the agency has proposed and drafted a bill on piracy and other unlawful acts at sea aimed at combating piracy and robbery at sea. The bill has been presented to maritime stakeholders in Lagos and Port Harcourt.
Industry analysts believe that with the determined onslaught of the present management of NIMASA on piracy and other criminal activities, Nigerian waters are on the verge of becoming safer, cleaner and freer from the activities of oil thieves.
While assuring this, the NIMASA boss is quick to point out that, “government alone cannot solve the problem of piracy due to the paperwork and the bureaucracy that projects of this nature are usually subjected to,” adding that “an agency that is involved in search and rescue operation, that is involved in emergency anytime anywhere must not subscribe to the civil service way of doing things; there should be some creativity”.