Last week Thursday, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy, foiled a pirate attack on a Chinese fishing trawler and arrested 10 pirates. YUSUF BABALOLA reports
One of the three point agenda of the current director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Bashir Jamoh is maritime security. The DG has reiterated at every fora that he will ensure a secured maritime domain for the country.
According to Jamoh, NIMASA will focus on three main areas, namely, Maritime Security, Safety, and Shipping Development, in pursuit of a robust maritime domain for the country.
The helmsman has also assured that he will consolidate on the successes recorded by the immediate past management of the agency led by Dr Dakuku Peterside on maritime security such as collaboration between the Armed Forces especially the Nigerian Navy which they have Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with on: the Deep Blue Project which was introduced by the federal government, the integration of Falcon Eye of the Nigerian Navy with the Command, Control Centre of the agency and the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019.
SPOMO Act to the Rescue
The law was assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari to improve security in Nigerian waters. The new “Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act” aims to ensure safe and secure shipping at sea, prosecute infractions and criminalise piracy.
Nigeria according to findings, officially becomes the first country in the Gulf of Guinea to promulgate a standalone law to fight piracy. Prior to this, Nigeria’s waters was an hotspot for piracy incidents over the last decade, topping piracy charts in 2018 with 31 attacks.
The Act fulfils the international requirement for a separate legislation against piracy set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), as to ensure global shipping.
The new law includes a distinct definition of piracy and other maritime offences. It provides penalties upon conviction for maritime crimes, restitution of violated maritime assets to owners and forfeiture of proceeds from maritime crime to the government.
The SPOMO Act 2019 gives effect to the relevant provisions of several international conventions already ratified by Nigeria. It is significant because it has ended the controversy around whether the crime of sea piracy is defined in any local legislation; and bestowed on the Federal High Court exclusive jurisdiction to determine matters of armed robbery and other unlawful acts at sea.
Prior to the law’s enactment, the prosecution of parties suspected of sea piracy was problematic in Nigeria, as there appeared to be no domestic statute which defined the crime. Under Section 36(12) of the Constitution, no party may be convicted of a criminal offence unless such offence is defined by an existing law.
Although Section 215(h) of the Merchant Shipping Act 2007 provides that the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation 1988 (SUA Convention) and the protocol thereto have applied since the MSA’s commencement, there were doubts among maritime stakeholders as to whether Section 215(h) thereof, sufficiently domesticated the SUA Convention as required by the Constitution in order for the definition of sea piracy contained in the convention to apply (2) Section 3 of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act has laid this issue to rest by defining ‘piracy’ as any:
(a) Illegal act of violence, act of detention. Or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or any passenger of a private ship or private aircraft and directed.
(i) In International Waters against another ship or aircraft or against a person or property on board the ship or aircraft, or (ii) against a ship, aircraft, person or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state; (b) Act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft; and (c) act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b) of this section.
Notably, the above definition accords with the universal jurisdiction principle espoused in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, whereby states may – in accordance with their municipal laws – arrest and prosecute persons, ships or aircraft suspected of committing piracy regardless of whether the pirate or attacked ship flies a foreign flag or has a foreign crew.
The definition also covers violent acts committed against property other than ships, such as aircraft and floating and fixed platforms in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone.
Prosecution of Pirates
However, in what could be like a precedent for anti-piracy law, NIMASA has said it will prosecute some pirates arrested in collaboration with the Nigerian navy infer the Anti-piracy law.
According to agency, the prosecution of the pirates would be the first trial of bandits arrested in international waters under the SPOMO Act signed into law in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari. The law made Nigeria the first in West and Central Africa to have a distinct antipiracy legislation.
Jamoh attributed the successful operation that led to the arrest of the pirates and rescue of the ship and its crew to collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. He said the agency will continue to work with relevant security agencies in order to achieve its goal of eradicating piracy and all forms of illegality on the Nigerian waters.
The NIMASA boss while stating his commitment to collaboration among relevant agencies and stakeholders for the security of the country’s maritime domain during the official handover of pirates arrested by the Nigerian Navy for prosecution said the 10 pirates had on May 15 attacked and boarded a Chinese vessel, MV HAILUFANG II, off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire and directed it towards Nigerian waters.
They were arrested by the Nigerian Navy, which dispatched a ship to intercept the vessel after it got an alert. The director-general stated, “We have just witnessed the handover of pirates. This is as a result of the robust collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. There has been a lot of synergy between NIMASA and the Navy with regard to the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act.
“I also want to seize the opportunity to thank Mr. President for signing the anti-piracy law, which would facilitate sufficient prosecution of these pirates.”
Jamoh, who was represented by the agency’s Head of Legal Services, Mr Victor Egejuru, assured that with the anti-piracy law, there was ample legal framework to prosecute pirates and other perpetrators of maritime offences in the country to bring the menace to the barest minimum.
Also, the Nigerian Navy said the crew members were rescued on Thursday, May 15. According to a statement signed by Commodore Ibrahim Shettima, the Commander Nigeria Navy Ship (NNS) BEECROFT on Monday, he said that the rescued crew members, comprising Chinese, Ghanaians and Ivorians, were attacked by pirates off the coast of Cote d’Ivoire.
Shettima, who gave details of the naval operation, said the vessel had 18 crew members comprising Chinese, Ghanaians, and Ivorians. Shettima said, “On interception of the vessel about 140nm south of Lagos Fairway Buoy, the pirates had refused to comply with the orders of the Navy ship, hence the Nigerian Navy had to conduct an opposed boarding of the vessel. All ship crew were safely rescued, while the 10 pirates were also arrested.”
He stressed the need for increased regional cooperation and information sharing, disclosing that the arrest of the pirates was due to a tip-off by the Beninoise Navy. Shettima warned criminal elements to stay away from Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, saying the Navy has the capability to deal with such threats.
“I am here to make a brief on the rescue efforts of the Nigerian Navy in a recent pirate attack within the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). On May 15, a Chinese vessel, MV HAILUFANG II, was attacked by pirates off the coast of Cote d’Ivoire.
“The pirates took control of the vessel and directed the vessel toward Nigerian waters. The vessel had 18 crew members, comprising Chinese, Ghanaians and Ivorians,” he said. Mr. Shettima said the Nigerian Navy was alerted of the attack, adding that it immediately dispatched the NNS NGURU to intercept the vessel.
“On interception of the vessel at about 140nm south of Lagos Fairway Buoy, the pirates refused to comply with the orders of the Navy Ship. Hence, the Nigerian Navy had to conduct an opposed boarding of the vessel. All ship’s crew were safely rescued, while the 10 pirates were arrested,” he said.
The commodore noted that the last five known or documented pirates’ attacks were outside Nigerian waters, which the Nigerian Navy responded in the interest of regional security. “This is aptly captured in the Nigerian Navy Total Spectrum Maritime Strategy, which covers Nigeria’s outermost maritime area of interest, encompassing the entire West African waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
”This underscores the need for increased regional cooperation in terms of information sharing and further deepening of response capability. For instance, this rescue effort was bolstered by additional intel received from the Benin Republic Navy during the operation,” he said.
The Nigerian Navy also warned criminals within the Gulf of Guinea to desist from their acts. “The Nigerian Navy has the capability and will power to deal with such perpetrators,” he said.