Our lack of a broader maritime culture has, too often, concealed from us the oceans’ importance to development. This is because our seas ,which should contribute to economic and environmental security, are too often a story of stolen resources, drowning refugees and missed opportunities. TARKAA DAVID writes that this anomaly can only be reversed by a brazen Navy
Emerging security threats within the Nigerian Maritime domain are largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities.
These agitations manifest in the form of attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft.
Also, there are various forms of illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution amongst others, even though the maritime space has remained a veritable medium for driving growth, development and prosperity among both littoral and land-linked nations in the 21st century.
The Nigerian Navy, being the lead agency responsible for security in the vast maritime environment, has initiated various programmes and operations geared towards creating a safe and secured maritime space for commerce to thrive.
It is instructive to note that Nigeria, with a coastline of about 420nm, lays claim to 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in line with United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The chief of naval staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, disclosed that Nigeria has initiated the process of claiming a 350nm extended continental shelf, within the Golf of Guinea (GoG).
This maritime space has tremendous economic potentials due to its rich hydrocarbon deposits, fishery resources, and several port facilities, which, if well harnessed, are capable of improving the livelihood of our population.
However, despite these prospects, the frequent abuse by diverse interests across the vast maritime domain has continued to be a source of worry.
“Many of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic lifeline of the nation, with a negative impact on development and the wellbeing of our citizens,” he said/
Ibas, who was represented by the chief of Policy and Plans, Rear Admiral Begroy Ibe-Enwo, at the West African Shipping Summit held during the London International Shipping Week, said owing to the nation’s maritime domain with over 3,000 creeks and the frequent mutation and transnational nature of maritime crimes, the NN has had to initiate various independent operations and collaborative efforts with relevant stakeholders to curb the menace.
He noted that piracy and sea robbery within the GoG have become a major point of discussion with the region ranked as one of the most troubled waterways in the last two decades.
“It is estimated that the annual cost of piracy to the GoG region is over USD 2 billion,” he stressed.
The CNS said the poor socio-economic conditions of the people of the Niger Delta region is another major issue affecting the sector.
He said the economic conditions of the people of the Niger Delta region, therefore, portends a critical issue in the discourse of the security of Nigeria’s maritime domain and, needs to be addressed expeditiously.
“The region, like many other parts of Africa is plagued with some level of poverty, inadequate social infrastructure, especially as it relates to health, education and transport, as well as youth unemployment, among others. This makes the youth vulnerable to crimes, as they are readily available to be used as tools, by powerful maritime crime syndicates to perpetrate all forms of criminalities including oil and gas pipeline vandalism, piracy/sea robbery on merchant shipping,” he said.
The Nigerian Navy introduced Operation TSARE TEKU, an anti-piracy operation and Operation RIVER SWEEP, which is an anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) and anti-Illegal refining operation.
Since the activation of the anti-piracy operation three years ago, there has been a decline in reported cases of piracy/sea robbery attacks within Nigeria’s maritime domain.
The operation has contributed to significant improvement in shipping into Nigeria’s maritime environment as attested to by the Nigerian Shippers Council.
The anti-COT and illegal refining operations also incorporates the Choke Point Management and Control Regime involving the deployment of armed personnel in houseboats designated at strategic chokepoints within the creeks to prevent any stolen crude from being taken away in ships or barges to mother vessels at sea.
Besides these two operations, the NN has continued to conduct policing patrols across the nation’s EEZ and territorial waters, employing the advantage of its maritime situational awareness infrastructure to coordinate and direct the pattern of patrols.
“The service is thus, able to conduct round the clock surveillance of our maritime space using Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) facilities in addition to surface vessels and helicopters to ensure effective electronic tracking of vessels within our maritime environment, whether fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) or not. he added.
“For instance, in 2019 alone, the MDA Systems were used to vector NN platforms to arrest over 25 vessels for suspicion of committing various infractions within Nigerian waters.”
To further enhance NN surveillance and MDA network, the service recently signed an MoU on white shipping with the Indian Navy and has been endorsed to join the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in addition to the Italian based Trans-Regional Maritime Network, which she joined in 2015.
These strategic partnerships have the potential to further enhance the NN’s capacity to engage with other major maritime nations, particularly in areas of information sharing and relevant advisories to check criminality across the Mediterranean sea as well as the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, with a positive impact on NN maritime policing duties.
In particular, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Customs, Immigration and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency have been most supportive in this regard.
These engagements will foster a shared vision on the accomplishment of maritime security to bolster common efforts to emplace a more conducive environment for shipping and other maritime activities.
One positive outcome of such consultation is 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.
Further to the launch of the HSOP, the NN has constantly engaged directly with each agency on modalities for implementation, thus, creating the desired synergy, resulting in the arrest of over 130 vessels within the past two years.
The HSOP was further boosted as a legal instrument for the prosecution of maritime crimes in Nigeria by Mr President’s recent assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill of 2019.
More importantly, the Act would serve as a strategic deterrent to the commission of various criminalities within the nation’s maritime environment and curtail the excesses of syndicates that profits from sponsoring acts of piracy within the GoG.
The Act also demonstrates government’s resolve to enforce maritime law within the region towards changing the global negative perception of the GoG as a haven for insecurity. However, considering the transnational and migratory nature of these maritime crimes, there is need for even greater international collaboration to boost maritime law enforcement.
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), the NN, in concert with other regional navies, has instituted measures to check migratory crimes.
Accordingly, the navies of ECOWAS Zone E, made up of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and gendarmerie of Niger Republic, recently endorsed an MoU for combined patrol of their common maritime domain. There has also been increased collaboration between the NN and navies from other partner nations to boost synergy in addressing illegalities within the GoG.
He noted that there is an on-going fleet expansion programme which has led to the addition of several OPVs, Seaward Defence Boats, induction of over 250 Inshore Patrol Boats including strengthening of the NN airbases.
The fleet recapitalisation effort, he said, has enabled the NN to extend reach in support of regional effort to secure common seas, while enabling the service better attend to her domestic policing roles.
The modest acquisition indicates 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.
The naval boss averred that 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.
This inadequacy has resulted in information gaps, making it difficult to acquire a holistic picture of the environment needed to share with relevant users.
“Let me also seize this opportunity to advice seafarers and ship owners to adopt pragmatic measures to improve their individual safety and security at sea through evasive maneuvers, increase of speed, use of citadels as well as use of Safe Anchorage Areas (SAA) and convoy protection where available,”
As part of efforts to overcome this challenge, the NN has resorted to local shipbuilding efforts to increase the size of her fleet. Plans are also at advanced level to introduce Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)/drones, thereby, further enhancing operational capability.
The decline in successful attacks is as a result of NN intensified efforts at securing Nigeria’s maritime environment. Notwithstanding, the fact that successful piracy attacks occasionally occur in Nigerian waters and indeed the GoG, calls for more proactive action by the NN and other stakeholders in order to rid the maritime sector of all forms of criminalities.
Many of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic lifeline of the nation, with a negative impact on development and the wellbeing of our citizens
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