In this report, TARKAA DAVID looks at Nigerian Navy’s efforts in ensuring security in the Gulf of Guinea.
The maritime space occupies a strategic position in the economic life of many nations and often times, is prone to security threats, owing to its importance, neighbouring states are therefore obliged to collectively seek measures to protect their maritime spaces due to the entwined nature of maritime boundaries and the migratory tendencies of criminal activities at sea.
The Gulf of Guinea (GoG), for instance, with a coastline of about 3240 Nautical Miles or 6000 kilometres, stretching from Angola in Southern Africa, to Senegal in West Africa, therefore, requires such collaboration to guarantee peace and prospect. The gulf, which consists of 20 sovereign coastal states and islands, plus a number of land-linked states, is endowed with abundant living and non-living marine resources, which, if carefully managed, could contribute to sub-regional, as well as global prosperity.
Blessed with a large portion of global hydrocarbon deposits, the region is geographically positioned with a comparative advantage for oil and gas supply owing to its relative proximity to the world’s main energy consumers and the absence of narrow maritime shipping lanes, straits or chokepoints.
Despite these prospects, the frequent abuse of the vast expanse of its maritime domain through illicit activities of local and foreign collaborators has continued to negatively affect the economy and is raising serious concerns among stakeholders. More disturbing is the fact that many of the illicit acts are targeted at the economic lifeline of both littoral and land-linked member states thus further exacerbating wide-scale poverty.
Reports show that security occurrences within the region stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations, rising populations and unemployment in the coastal communities.
This manifests in attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft. Others are illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution, which constitute serious challenges to the development of the countries in the region.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, in a paper presented at the International High-Level Symposium for Naval Leaders Marking the 70th Anniversary of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Navy in Qingdao – China outlined Nigerian Navy’s contributions to maritime security.
The CNS reminded the gathering of the strong political will demonstrated by the leadership of the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) states through their ratification of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct of 2013, to curb festering mutative and migratory criminal tendencies across their common maritime borders.
He highlighted the Code of Conduct established standards for inter-regional cooperation based on law enforcement at sea, information sharing, training and multilateral collaboration and other existing frameworks developed to facilitate cooperation and capacities’ building for maritime security operations including the 2050 Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS) and the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy (EIMS).
He, however, noted that in spite of these noble initiatives, ‘’the inability of the regional navies to effectively address existing threats attests to the incomplete operationalisation of existing maritime security frameworks and limited multilateral integration among maritime enforcement agencies.’’
The CNS added that effective regional response was further hampered by challenges of inadequate platforms for maritime policing and provision for the prosecution of maritime crimes across borders.
Other precincts, he said, ‘’were insufficient surveillance systems and information sharing mechanism.’’
However, as the dominant Navy in the region, the NN, with the support of the home government has remained in the vanguard of efforts to build synergy necessary to bolster maritime law enforcement within both the Nigerian maritime environment and in the GoG.
Ibas outlined some of the efforts made by NN to tackle maritime challenges in the region to include regular meetings with major maritime stakeholders as a form of backward integration with Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies, in recognition of the centrality of intelligence and prompt information sharing to successful maritime security operations.
From such interactions, it led to the promulgation of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedure (HSOP) on the arrest and detention of vessels/persons in Nigeria’s maritime environment.
The HSOP seeks to resolve the lack of common understanding and limited synergy among MLEAs and stakeholders and provides guidelines for MLEAs to collaborate in the conduct of their assigned functions in the maritime environment.
Owing to its success, the document is being considered by other countries in the region to enhance synergy of actions against criminalities at sea.
The NN also recorded commendable stride in the improvement of its surveillance capabilities through a Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) project to enhance surveillance and interdiction efforts.
The twin but complementary systems of the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC) facility and the FALCON EYE system have continued to be expanded, in view of their highly encouraging outputs.
This led to the rescue of a tanker, MT MAXIMUS by NN in 2016, three days after her hijack by pirates in Cote d’Ivoire waters, across the maritime territories of over six different nations.
With the aid of effective MDA systems, suitable platforms and seamless coordination among a number of states along the transit corridor of the criminal convoy, the ship was trailed by the NN and eventually intercepted at the fringes of Sao Tome and Principe waters with six pirates arrested and one killed in action.
It is heart warming to state that since that episode, no such brazen attempt by the criminals to hijack oil tankers has occurred.
To consolidate the gains of the MDA project, the NN, in collaboration with the US Government recently established a Regional MDA Training School for joint training of personnel of the NN and other navies of the GoG to steadily improve capacity for a collective response to security challenges at sea.
He said the NN has equally shown commitment to strengthening international collaboration as part of efforts to improving maritime security in the GoG by active participation in bilateral and multilateral efforts to enhance collective security.
This has led to the establishment of a mechanism for sharing maritime information with regional navies and maritime regulatory agencies at the Maritime Trade Information Sharing Centre in Ghana.
Furthermore, the naval chief pointed out that the establishment of the Multi-National Maritime Coordination Centre in Benin Republic for ECOWAS Zone E member states, under the lead of the NN, has heralded a new dawn in multilateral cooperation in the region with the signing of an MoU among the Chiefs of Naval Staff of Benin, Togo, Niger and Nigeria at Cotonou and the Head of Gendarmerie of Niger Republic on modalities for embracing a continuous joint multilateral patrol by member countries, to dominate their common maritime space through joint maritime and air patrol and active collection and dissemination of information.
He reiterated that the operationalisation of the MoU would greatly curb transnational maritime crimes across Zone E.
In a further demonstration of its commitment to operationalising multilateral integration for the security of the GoG, the NN as an indigenous GoG Navy, initiated the conduct of a biennial International Maritime Conference and Regional Sea Exercise (IMCREMEX).
After an inaugural EX OPIA TOHA in 2016, the second exercise, EKU KUGBE, was held in 2018, and it involved over 17 ships and aircraft from seven different countries including the Chinese PLA Navy Ship YANCHENG, the purpose of which was to further consolidate inter-regional multilateral effort at securing the GoG.
Despite a harsh fiscal environment at home, the Nigerian government has remained committed to enhancing the response capability of the NN through the acquisition of more patrol vessels and aircraft. Noteworthy is the on-going fleet expansion programme which has led to the addition of several OPVs, Seaward Defence Boats, and induction of over 200 Inshore Patrol Boats including the strengthening of air bases. Two of the Navy’s recent OPVs, NNS CENTENARY and NNS UNITY, were built by Chinese shipbuilders.
The fleet recapitalisation effort has thus, enabled the NN to extend its reach in support of regional effort to secure the common seas while enabling the NN better attend to her domestic policing roles. This has led to huge reduction in incidences of crude oil theft and other crimes in Nigeria’s maritime environment, with the government confirming a drastic reduction in national crude oil losses between 2015 and 2017.
“Increased NN presence at sea also resulted in a 50 per cent reduction of acts of piracy within the GoG between the first quarter of 2018 and 2019, as attested to by the International Maritime Bureau.”
The modest attainment by these acquisitions clearly suggests that more ships with prolonged endurance such as OPVs are needed for sustained presence at sea and the protection of critical assets in the deep offshore areas.
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