Nations all over the world strive to protect the sea/ocean which constitutes about two-thirds of the earth’s surface area which holds the world’s economy
The sea which is of great interest to the existence of littoral States has remained a medium of global trade as both littoral and land-linked countries depend on it for easier and cheaper haulage and inter-connectivity with other states.
According to the UNCTAD, 2016, the global economy depends largely on the ocean, with the ocean-based economic sector estimated at between $3-6 Trillion with more than 3 billion people relying on the oceans for their livelihood
The strategic value attached to the sea and resources therein usually heightens the exposure of littoral nations to maritime security breaches.
Nigeria is a maritime nation with a vast coastline and a maritime domain that is endowed with hydrocarbons and other resources. The sea is essentially the lifeblood of Nigeria’s economy as it serves as a medium for conveying the vast majority of her trade and many vital resources such as oil. Incidentally, the sea is also being exploited by criminals and economic saboteurs, thus, inhibiting national development.
Today, the dwindling fortunes of crude oil and its negative effects have continued to ravage various segments of the nation’s economy, hence, the realization of the Nigerian Navy to block the leakages as the nation has no other option.
Like most navies all over the world, the Nigerian Navy (NN) was established in 1956 to ensure the attainment maritime security within Nigeria’s domain and adjacent maritime areas of interest.
The effective protection of the maritime resources and assets within this domain would enhance economic activities and create employment opportunities for the well-being of Nigerians, thus improving national development.
Nigeria’s Maritime Environment (ME) is circumscribed by its geography and the provisions of the United Nations Conference on Law of the Sea-UNCLOS III. Consequently, Nigeria claims a Territorial Sea of 12 nm along its coastline of about 420 nm and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of up to 200 nm from the baseline.
Nigeria has also filed claims for an extended continental shelf up to 350 nm. Accordingly, Nigeria’s ME translates to about 5,040 sq nm of sovereign territory, 84,000 sq nm of EEZ, and about 147,000 sq nm of the continental shelf, which is about one-third of Nigeria’s landmass.
The Nation’s maritime interest however goes beyond her EEZ as a result of geo-strategic imperatives which have shaped our foreign and defence policy objectives covering the entire maritime area of the Gulf of Guinea extending from Dakar in Senegal to Luanda in Angola.
Nigeria’s maritime environment is rich in hydrocarbon deposits with proven oil reserves of about 28.2 billion barrels (NNPC 2020) representing 1.63 per cent of total global oil reserves and 165 trillion standard cubic feet (SCF) natural gas reserves. The oil and gas sector accounts for about 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and petroleum exports revenue represents about 86 per cent of the total exports revenue of the country (OPEC, 2021).
Besides crude oil, other mineral resources such as manganese nodules, copper, natural gas, as well as fishery resources abound. Furthermore, over 60 per cent of Nigeria’s external trade both in terms of volume and value are transported by sea. The safe passage of ships and goods is among the nation’s vital maritime interests.
The Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo in a lecture presented at Bayero University Kano during the recently concluded Chief of the Naval Staff Annual Conference 2021 said “Thus, any threat to law and order in Nigeria’s maritime environment is a direct threat to the country’s economic well-being and by extension our national development.”
Gambo said the contemporary threats to Nigeria’s maritime environment are multifaceted and can broadly be classified as external or internal threats.
He said external maritime security threats manifest in various forms including sabotage of sensitive military, economic, or other strategic installations, the threat of force by unfriendly states as well as maritime boundary disputes between neighbouring countries which he said may not be as challenging as the internal threats.
The Naval Chief in the presentation said the common internal threats in Nigeria’s maritime environment include crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism, piracy and sea robbery as well as militancy and youth restiveness.
Others are Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF), smuggling, and marine pollution.
“Intelligence has however shown that most of these acts are perpetrated by local lynchpins with foreign accomplices and have potential to further exacerbate the already fragile domestic socio-economic conditions and security in the affected areas.”
He said the revenue accruable from the exploitation of the resources in the nation’s maritime environment constitutes the mainstay of the economy, thus, “these threats usually have a negative impact on the economy and national development efforts.”
One of the implications of maritime security threats on national development is the loss of revenue as a result of crude oil theft and other ancillary crimes.
The persistent threats of piracy and sea robbery have been responsible for the increase in shipping charges and attendant increase in the cost of imported goods as well as loss of profit from exported goods.
This has led to the imposition of high tariffs and insurance premiums on vessels involved in freighting and conveying Gulf of Guinea cargoes.
The marine environment in the Niger Delta is characterised by activities that affect the environment such as the operations of illegal refineries which have severely impacted biodiversity, aesthetic scenery of the forest, regeneration of plant species and destruction of wildlife habitat as well as disruption of the water cycle and loss of medicinal plant species.
The resulting oil spills from vandalised pipes and wastes from thousands of makeshift refineries combine to degrade the environment causing land, sea, and air pollutions thereby impinging on public health.
He said it costs the government and other multinational companies billions of Naira that could have been used for other developmental projects to clean the spillage thereby depriving the government of these resources for national development.
The operation of illegal refineries has generated black soot and acid rain in some states in the Niger Delta, including health hazards such as asthma and skin rashes. However, the situation has greatly improved through concerted efforts taken to effectively curtail the operations of the illegal refineries.
Gambo said some economic saboteurs in the maritime areas procure arms and ammunition from the sales of stolen crude to protect their illicit activities to further boost their dominance in these illegal activities.
He added that the weapons are usually smuggled into Nigeria through the maritime area by ships, fishing vessels, and the country’s porous land borders. The proliferation of these weapons have serious implications on security, thereby impinging on national development.
The Nigerian Navy in line with its mandate has been effectively carrying out Anti-Piracy Patrol, Anti-Smuggling Operations, Anti-Crude Oil Theft, Indigenous Ship Building Efforts, and Enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness, Hydrographic Survey Activities, Protection of Oil and Gas Infrastructure and other activities in Support of Joint Operation in the hinterland despite logistics challenges.
He disclosed that the Nigerian Navy ships spent 27,758 hours at sea in 2020 and so far in 2021, NN ships have been at sea for over 15,000 hours to curb piracy, oil theft, and other illegalities
From a high rate of 89 pirate attacks recorded in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) and 70 in Nigerian waters for 2016, the GoG in 2020 witnessed 44 cases with 22 in Nigerian waters.
However, “from January to August 2021, there were 10 pirate attacks in the GoG with only 5 within Nigeria’s waters”
The service had in 2020 seized 25,601 bags of smuggled foreign rice and between January to July 2021 seized 2,137 bags
In the fight against crude oil theft, the Navy has between January and July 2021 alone, destroyed 165 illegal refining sites.
The Naval said “a mapping of destroyed illegal refining sites reveals close proximity of the illegal refining sites to crude oil pipeline networks, suggestive of the complicity of some staff of oil companies operating in these areas with criminal elements in adjacent communities”
The quantity of crude oil recovered from illegal refineries and illegal bunkerers in 2020/2021 is about 3 million Barrels, including about 572,331 litres of Automotive Gas Oil, 34, 260 litres of Premium Motor Spirit, and 3,599,551litres of Dual Purpose Kerosene all illegally refined with a total value of about N87.5 Billion which he said apart from the drain on the national income, illegal refining activities result in colossal environmental damage.
The introduction of a twin but complementary systems of the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC) facility and the FALCON EYE system leverage modern technology to enhance the safeguard of immense hydrocarbon and other mineral resources in the nation’s maritime domain with highly encouraging outputs.
He said intelligence generated from the 2 systems led to the arrest of over 30 vessels engaged in IUUF as well as the arrest of over 50 pirates.
“With these assets, the NN is better positioned to guarantee maritime security which in turn will boost Nigeria’s oil and gas production and other maritime activities that are essential for the sustenance of the nation’s economy,”
The Naval Chief, however, lamented that the NN operates from bases that are not as equipped as desired and located far inland along the creeks.
“In fact, NN major bases in Warri, Port Harcourt, and Calabar are located between 3 to 8 hours from the coast.
“This results in the loss of valuable time transiting to sea in response to threats or emergencies. Accordingly, the NN is in dire need of purpose-built Bases along the coast equipped with appropriate support infrastructures like jetties, Petroleum Oil and Lubricant (POL) storage, and repair facilities to sustain maritime policing,” he added.