TARKAA DAVID in this report X-rays the Nigerian Navy efforts in tackling transnational crimes and protecting Nigeria’s economic zone
The African Seaborne trade has benefited from common global maritime security though not without attendant maritime security challenges especially within the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). Nigeria, with a coastline of about 420nm in line with United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) lays claim to 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and has initiated the process of claiming a 350nm extended continental shelf, within the GoG.
This maritime space has tremendous economic potentials due to its dominant portion of global hydrocarbon deposits, fishery resources, and several port facilities which if well harnessed are capable of improving the livelihood of the population.
However, despite these prospects, the frequent abuse of the vast expanse of the maritime domain through illicit activities of local and foreign collaborators has continued to be of great concern. Most of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic lifeline of member states, further exacerbating wide-scale poverty.
Recent security occurrences within the region stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities. Their manifestations include attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft. There are also diverse forms of 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 Ibas speaking at the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference marking 60th anniversary of the Ghana Navy said Nigerian Navy as the lead agency responsible for security in the vast maritime environment of the country, has initiated various operations and programmes geared towards creating a safe and secured maritime space for maritime commerce to thrive.
These initiatives are categorised into independent NN operations as well as collaborative operations with other stakeholders within Nigeria and beyond her borders.
Owing to the wide expanse of the maritime domain and the frequently mutating and transnational nature of maritime crimes, the Nigerian Navy exploited available Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) infrastructure to enhance her operational efficiency towards curtailing criminality within the GoG in which information sharing is key.
Two of these operations include the anti-piracy operation, Operation TSARE TEKU and the anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) and Illegal refining operation, Operation RIVER SWEEP.
Vice Admiral Ibas noted that since the activation of the anti-piracy operation three years ago, “there has been a successive decline in reported cases of pirate/sea robbery attacks within Nigeria’s maritime domain’.
The Shippers Council of Nigeria in one of its reports attested that the operation is largely responsible for significant improvement in shipping into Nigeria’s maritime environment.
The anti- Crude Oil Theft and illegal refining operations also incorporated the Choke Point Management and Control Regime involving the deployment of armed personnel in houseboats designated at strategic chokepoints within the creeks.
Each of the Nigerian Navy Security (NNS) with 35 armed personnel is stationed at a strategic position with patrol boats attached to the stations to serve as counter theft responses to prevent any stolen crude from being taken away in ships or barges.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has attested to the successes of Op RIVER SWEEP, confirming huge savings for the nation due to massive reductions in pipeline losses between 2015 and 2018.
Beside the aforementioned operations, the NN continue to conduct policing patrols across the nation’s EEZ and territorial waters employing the advantage of its MDA infrastructure to coordinate and direct the pattern of patrols. As at today, Nigerian Navy conducts round the clock surveillance of Nigeria’s maritime space using the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC) and the Falcon Eye (FE) facilities in addition to surface vessels and helicopters.
“These facilities ensure effective electronic tracking of vessels within our maritime environment whether fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) or not. The systems also serve as force multipliers, as NN patrols are more mission-oriented with the attendant reduction in operational logistics cost”.
Following the historic tracking and arrest of the hijackers of a tanker MT MAXIMUS by the NN at the fringes of Sao Tome and Principe in 2016, the Navy has continued to achieve several successes using the MDA systems.
The Service upon suspicion of committing maritime infractions within the Nigerian waters “ The FE Systems were used to vector NNS UNITY to arrest MV NESO II in October 2018 while NNS NGURU and EKULU were vectored to arrest MV HAWA and AKEMIJOE DEBORAH respectively as well as several others, in 2019.”
As part of efforts to enhance Nigerian Navy surveillance and MDA network, the Service recently signed an MoU on white shipping with the Indian Navy and also applied to join the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in addition to the Italian based Trans-Regional Maritime Network, which she joined in 2015.
Ibas averred that the service actively participated in 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. The various partnerships are targeted at increasing NN domain awareness across both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, with a positive impact on surveillance capacity to facilitate NN policing duties. To consolidate the gains of the MDA project, the service in collaboration with the US Government established a Regional MDA Training School for joint training of personnel of the NN and other navies of the GoG.
The strategy is to steadily improve capacity for gathering and sharing of vital information to enhance collective response to security challenges at sea.
To enhance maritime operations, the NN engages regularly with various stakeholders. The Naval Chief noted that the engagements are to foster a shared vision on the accomplishment of maritime security tasks and information sharing leading to the successful arrest and prosecution of several cases.
The launch of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures (HSOP) on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons (HSOP AD&P) in Nigeria’s Maritime Environment in January 2017 are some of the positive outcomes.
Further to the launch, the NN constantly engages directly with each agency on modalities for implementation, resulting in the arrest of over 130 vessels within the past two years.
The HSOP was further boosted as a legal instrument for the administration of maritime crimes in Nigeria by Mr President’s recent assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill of 2019.
The Act would serve as a strategic deterrence to the commission of various criminalities within the nation’s maritime environment and curtail the excesses of syndicates that continue to profit from sponsoring acts of piracy within the GoG.
The Act also demonstrates the government’s resolve to enforce maritime law within the region towards changing the global negative perception of the GoG as a haven for insecurity.
“Considering the transnational and migratory nature of these maritime crimes there is also the need for even more regional and international collaboration to boost maritime law enforcement”.
To collectively address maritime security challenges in the global commons, the NN has supported regional efforts towards collective maritime security.
Following the 2013 Yaoundé Declaration which adopted an inter-regional Code of Conduct for inter-navy cooperation between Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) States, the NN in concert with other regional navies instituted measures to check migratory crimes. Accordingly, the NN and navies of ECOWAS Zone E and the Gendarmerie of Niger Republic signed an MoU for combined patrol of their common maritime domain leading to increased collaboration between the NN and navies from other partner nations to boost synergy in addressing illegalities within the GoG.
A combined law enforcement operation code-named Operation JUNCTION RAIN was also hosted by the NN in April 2019 has brought on board various Nigerian maritime stakeholders and US Navy/Coastguard ship in partnership with remarkable results.
“Increased information sharing between the NN and other agencies has contributed to a 50 per cent reduction of acts of piracy within the GoG between the First Quarter of 2018 and the First Quarter of 2019, as attested to by the International Maritime Bureau,” the chief stressed.
These achievements indicate that more sustained presence at sea and increasing exchange of critical information between regional maritime partners and stakeholders would be critical for the security of the maritime domain.
He said the service Will strengthen discussions with regional partners regarding a sustainable collaboration in joint operations and information sharing to guaranteeing the security of the maritime environment of the GoG.
It is pertinent to state that despite the NN’s effort at ensuring that maritime crimes are reduced to the barest minimum through efficient information dissemination, new challenges continue to unfold due to the dynamic nature of the criminals that operate within the environment.
He said the intensity and trans-national nature of maritime crimes within the region, therefore, requires a more diligent record and data capturing of the identity of criminal perpetrators. He, however, lamented that the lack of adequate database on identified criminals has allowed perpetrators of maritime crimes to relocate from one country to the other without being identified easily.
“Some persons who have been prosecuted for maritime crimes on completion of their jail terms have resumed their criminal activities in other countries unnoticed. This gap within the West African sub-region needs to be given more attention and addressed,” he said.
With improved database and information sharing on persons prosecuted for maritime crimes, it would be easier to track and apprehend such persons, should they continue to live in a life of crime. Again language has continued to pose some challenge on sharing information within the navies across West Africa, member states.
Though the NN has in recent years renewed her fleet with new acquisitions, the fact still remains that the ships are not enough to maintain continuous presence as required to dominate the maritime space of interest.
Inadequacy and limited presence of naval assets at sea also hamper the enabling of maritime information gathering and sharing. This has resulted in information and response gaps making it difficult to acquire a holistic picture of the environment needed to share with relevant users. As part of efforts to overcome this challenge, the NN has resorted to local shipbuilding efforts to increase the size of her fleet.
With the support of the US Navy, most regional navies are equipped with the RMAC system . the Navy also advocates a common network to facilitate greater integration for seamless information sharing across the entire sub-region, adding that member countries should take advantage of the regional MDA Training School in Lagos Nigeria.
To overcome these challenges, Vice Admirer Ibas urged member countries to reduce the bureaucracy required to share information, train personnel in common official language used by member nations as well as develop and share data regarding convicted offenders of maritime crimes.
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