Vessels entering Nigeria’s Onne port in Port Harcourt, Rivers state are being delayed for an average of six hours per night which amount to $45,000 (N16.2milion) due to insecurity in the area.

The delay, estimated at $7,500 per hour, is said to be fuelled by constant pirate attacks on the nation’s waterways. Consequently, the importers of the consignments on board the vessel will have to pay for the delay.

The eastern ports including the Onne port have been operating on the International Ships Ports Security (ISPS) Code 2 due to insecurity in the region. However, vessels that berth and discharge find it difficult to sail out at night for fear of pirate attacks.

LEADERSHIP recalls that the Gulf of Guinea accounts for 29 incidents in 2018 Q1, more than forty percent of the global total. For instance, on 22nd of March, a merchant vessel reported that it came under attack from two speedboats 53 nautical mile (nm) southwest of Bonny at 23:48hours local time. Also, on the 7th of April, a bulk carrier was chased down and boarded by pirates off Brass, Nigeria.

The bulk carrier was sailing around 41 nautical miles south-southeast from Brass when four pirates in a speedboat armed with guns caught up with the tanker and came on board. Before leaving the ship, pirates fired upon and damaged the ship’s equipment and accommodation. The perpetrators stole the ship’s cash and properties.

The acting director-general of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Engr Chidi Izuwah has expressed worry over the inability of vessels to sail out at night at Onne Port.

Speaking at an event recently, the ICRC boss regretted that vessels cannot sail out of the port as it is done in Lagos port. “No night sailing at Onne Port and this is worrisome unlike what happens at Lagos Port where vessels can sail out at any time of the day,” he said.

However, a reliable source in one of the container terminals at Onne Port, West Africa Container Terminal (WACT) disclosed to LEADERSHIP that vessels failed to sail out of the port over insecurity. He said shipping companies are left with an option of sailing out at night and get attacked or wait till the following morning to avoid attack.

The source who craved anonymity also said that the security situation in Onne Port has been a source of concern to all stakeholders especially shipping companies and importers. The source said, “due to insecurity, night voyage is absolutely prohibited at Onne Port due to insecurity fueled by pirate attacks.

“As a shipping company, you choose between your vessel being attacked and crew abducted and you staying over and incurring demurrage,” he said, adding that shipping companies would rather incur demurrage than allowing their vessels to be attacked during night voyage.

The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB), in its Q1 report on piracy said Nigeria alone recorded 22 incidents of the 11 vessels fired upon worldwide. According to the report, eight vessels were fired at off Nigeria – including a 300,000 MT deadweight VLCC tanker more than 40 nautical miles off Brass.

“Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are against all vessels. Crews have been taken hostage and kidnapped from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels as well as product tankers. In some cases, the attacks have been avoided by the early detection of an approaching skiff, evasive action taken by the vessel and the effective use of citadel,” the report said.

However, shipping expert, Dr Kofi Mbia has stated that the surge in pirate activities could have a wrong impact on commercial trading in the shipping industry as it would affect the climate of confidence in trade and influence the rise in insurance premiums. Mbia, a former chief executive officer of the Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA) warned of high insurance premiums over high pirate attacks.

“When your coast is infested with pirates then there is the tendency for insurance premiums to go up for vessels that are calling at your port because of the threat to the vessels and at the same time it affects the climate of confidence in trade.

“Vessels must be able to move freely and navigate to and out of the port but whenever there are increase pirate attacks, there is the tendency for some vessels not to call on some particular ports because of fear of attack so indeed it affects commercial trading,” he said.