For many years now pirates and criminals of all shades and colours have been having a field day on Nigerian waters. And they have been carrying out their nefarious activities without much challenge from the relevant government authorities who have been fighting more with their mouths than with their hands.
But as the activities of these criminals reached a crescendo, with Nigeria’s waters and the surrounding waters of Gulf of Guinea being declared world’s number one piracy hot spot, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has stepped up the battle to rid the nation’s territorial waters of these criminals. With its ally, the Nigerian Navy, NIMASA has been waging war against the pirates, sometimes winning and other times losing as the crime incidents continue to be on the rise.
Last January, during his maiden press briefing for the year, the Director-General of NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside described the upsurge in cases of piracy and maritime crimes on Nigerian waters as very embarrassing. In a frank manner, he told maritime journalists:
“The big issue for us is security. It is unfortunate that in the last quarter of last year, there was a spike in the number of piracy attacks and maritime breaches of security incidents within our coastal waters. It is embarrassing but we are tackling it head on.”
He restated NIMASA’s commitment and determination to ensure that the country’s territorial waters was free of piracy and all forms of maritime crime in 2020 in order to boost investment opportunities in the blue economy. He expressed optimism that the tide will turn against the pirates by the end of the second quarter of the year.
Dakuku’s optimism was hinged on the expected arrival of most of the security assets being acquired under the $195million maritime security contract.
“HLSL is helping us acquire assets ahead of time. Last year December, the special mission vessel got into the country and this month, a number of interceptor vessels will come into the country. The second special mission vessel will come in by early February. The idea is to respond whenever there is a threat of criminality on our waterways. We are doing a lot of things in that area and we hope that result will begin to yield by second quarter of this year.
“Our optimism is that there will be significant drop in issue of piracy and maritime crimes within our coastal waters because without safety and security, nobody can optimize the benefits of trading within our waters, ”Dakuku said.
In addition to these assets, Dakuku said NIMASA had built capacity to track ships coming and leaving Nigeria, including ability to do a five-year profile on ships to identify and track vessels of interest and know the ones likely to be involved in illegal activities.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE SPECIAL MISSION VESSELS
Just as the NIMASA DG said, a fortnight ago, two special mission vessels arrived in the country. The arrival of the two SMVs has greatly boosted the morale of NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. Receiving the vessels, the NIMASA DG, Dakuku Peterside, said pirates and other criminals troubling the country’s waterways up to the Gulf of Guinea would soon meet their waterloo with the arrival and installation of the critical security assets.
The vessels, DB Lagos and DB Abuja, are said to be equipped with sophisticated intelligence gathering capability for timely detection and response to illegal activities in the nation’s maritime domain.
Peterside, who was represented at the unveiling of the vessels, by the agency’s Executive Director, Operations, Rotimi Fashakin, disclosed that apart from these two special mission vessels, 10 Fast Interceptor Boats have also arrived the country and seven more are expected later in the year.
“Today marks a new dawn for a more secure and stable maritime environment in Nigeria. This milestone in asset delivery inches us closer to full operational take-off of the Deep Blue Project, hence it marks a huge victory for the Nigerian maritime sector in the fight against maritime insecurity,” he said.
He further said, “Today’s event brings us to near crescendo in ensuring that we sniff out any form of criminality on our waterways and to bring about absolute tranquility in the nation’s water corridors.”
Dakuku disclosed that the DB Abuja and DB Lagos, which are built to be intelligently operated, will also serve as mother vessels to fast intervention crafts that are able to respond to distress calls swiftly.
“Each of the interceptor boats has a combined engine capacity of 900HP and can do up to 55knots. Each of the vessels would be commanded by a Navy captain with full complement of naval personnel, ”he said.
Also speaking at the event, Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok Ekwe Ibas, said the two SMVs would boost the effort to stamp out piracy from the nation’s waters just as he decried the impact of piracy on the nation’s economy.
“Piracy is an act inimical to the growth of the Nigerian maritime sector and we are prepared, more than ever before, to give it all it takes to end this nefarious act,” said Ibas, who was represented by the Chief Security Officer, Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral M. M. Bashir.
He gave the assurance that the officers who would be in charge of the vessels will be given adequate training under the Deep Blue Project, so that the special features of the vessels can be maximally utilized for the purpose of combating maritime illegalities.
Recently, the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, had again given a breakdown of the assets being assembled under the Deep Blue Project at a press conference in Lagos. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi revealed that a good number of the assets had arrived the country, saying that the first special mission aircraft will be in the country before the end of the first quarter of the year, while six armored personnel carriers were already in the country, and the first unmanned aerial vehicle is expected soon.
Also enumerating the critical assets during the unveiling of the SMVs, Mr. Anthony Ogadi, Head, Shipping Development and Coordinator of NIMASA In-house monitoring team of the Deep Blue Project, described the arrival of the vessels as historic for NIMASA, the federal government and the people of Nigeria as they constitute critical assets of the Deep Blue Project.
He said the Deep Blue Project has intervention platforms which include land, air and maritime assets. “The maritime assets include Special Mission Vessels 1 &2, 17 fast Interceptor boats, five inflatable training boats and two spares. The air assets include two special mission aircraft, three helicopters and four unmanned aerial vehicles, while the land assets include 16 armoured vehicles.”
He said that NIMASA had already received the Special Mission Vessels 1and 2 which had just been unveiled, and 10 fast interceptor boats. The remaining seven fast interceptor boats, he said, were expected before the end of 2020, adding that each of the boats had combined engine capacity of 9OOHP and could do up to 55hnots.
For the land assets, Ogadi said that six armoured vehicles for land intervention troops had also arrived and the remaining ten were being expected. He disclosed that the pre-shipment inspection of the special mission aircraft, helicopters and the unmanned aerial vehicle would be due this month end.
“The arrival of these assets, especially the special mission vessels, further attests to the commitment of the agency and the federal government to curbing insecurity on Nigerian waters,” he remarked.
FIGHTING ON THE LEGAL FRONT
Apart front amassing the necessary weapons for the physical battle on the waters, NIMASA has put everything in place to deal with the problem on the legal front. Last week, the agency sought to sensitize and galvanize the judicial sector operators on the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act, 2019. In collaboration with the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), NIMASA put together the annual Strategic Admiralty Law for Judges, with the theme: “Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences SPOMO Act, 2019: Key to Accelerating and Achieving Safe and Secure Shipping in Nigeria.”
The SPOMO Act which was signed into law by President Buhari in June last year, for the first time makes piracy a crime in Nigeria. It prescribes jail terms of between 15 years and life imprisonment, and fines from N50 million to N500 million for individuals and corporate organisations convicted for maritime offences in the country.
Specifically, the law aims to tackle the menace of piracy and armed robbery on the country’s waters and exclusive economic zone, with a strong and specific legal instrument that prescribes punishment for offenders and deters criminal elements. It is the first independent anti-piracy law in the Gulf of Guinea region.
Dakuku Peterside, speaking at the seminar, said with the coming of the SPOMO Act, there is now a robust framework for the criminalization and punishment of piracy and other maritime crimes in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. He noted that the seminar afforded the judiciary and NIMASA a unique opportunity to dialogue on issues of mutual importance, particularly, the sensitization of judges on contemporary maritime law issues both within and outside the Nigerian jurisdiction.
He expressed confidence that at end of the seminar, “there would be enhanced knowledge of participants in areas of the core mandate of NIMASA, heightened awareness on the provisions of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act and its enforceability, assessment of the standard operating procedures in tackling maritime crimes and the gaps and options for improvement and reform.”
Noting that stringent penalties awaited maritime criminals in the country, he stressed the need for unencumbered enforcement of the law, and sued for cooperation among the enforcement agencies.
The annual seminar that had hitherto been for judges of the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal, and High Courts of the littoral states only, was this year expanded to include law enforcement agencies. At the event, Dr. Peterside told them:
“The Gulf of Guinea, sadly, had been at the epicentre of maritime security discussions globally, given the incidents recorded in the region. The challenge of maritime insecurity in the region had been further compounded by a deficit of legislation to address the challenge.” He said the SPOMO Act had addressed that challenge, telling them that the ball was now in their court.
With all the physical and legal arsenals being assembled, there is no doubt that NIMASA is poised to win the war against piracy in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. The agency is not leaving any stone unturned in its preparations to deal the final death blow to piracy and maritime crimes that have made Nigeria’s territorial waters a dread to the global maritime community.
It is the hope of Dakuku Peterside and his management, the Nigerian Navy and the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, that by the time this year 2020 ends, Nigeria would have overcome the challenge posed by maritime criminals in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. By then, Dakuku will no longer feel terrible, as there won’t be incessant reports of pirates attacking vessels on Nigeria’s waters.
Okey Ibeke is a Poet based in Lagos and can be reached through: