New administration to tackle piracy



THE battle against sea piracy, cross-border crimes and other criminal activities will take the centre stage in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Piracy and other criminal tendencies along Nigeria’s waterways was a major challenge to the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The development, compelled vessels calling at the nation’s seaports to make extra security arrangements.

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in conjunction with the Navy, Air Force and other security agencies has, however, curtailed the menace through the deployment of Satellite Surveillance technology.

In his inaugural speech, Buhari assured Nigerians and the international community of the new administration’s commitment to tackle sea piracy, cross-border terrorism, refugees and boat people, among others.

Admitting the enormous challenges before the new administration, Buhari said: “At home we face enormous challenges. Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head on. Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us. We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix our problems.”

The crucial role of maritime security may have prompted the immediate past Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Habib Abdullahi to call for an urgent convocation of a national conference on the delineation of functions amongst agencies of government, responsible for maritime safety and security.

According to Abdullahi, the conference, which he said was long overdue, should be tripartite in nature with the active participation of the Marine Police, the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA.

Explaining that NPA would be willing to fully facilitate the hosting of the proposed tripartite conference, Abdullahi explained that the proposed conference should be able to harness all the problems arising from the discharge of the safety and security responsibilities by the various government agencies and proffer solutions to them.

According to Abdullahi, the conference, which should be holding within “the shortest possible” time should be able to harmonise and streamline the responsibilities of the various government agencies, with a view to removing duplication and conflict of roles as well as map out strategies on inter-agency complimentary efforts.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) had in 2013 identified Nigeria as the main source of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea between January and September, that year.

According to the group, with fewer attacks off Somalia, attention moved to the Gulf of Guinea, “a hotspot for violent piracy and ship hijacking for many years.”

The group in its report explained that in the first three quarters of that year, the Gulf of Guinea recorded more than 40 piracy attacks, with 132 crew taken hostage and seven vessels hijacked – six tankers and an offshore supply vessel.

The region, according to the group, also accounted for all crew kidnappings worldwide, adding that 32 of them happened off Nigeria, and two off Togo.

“Nigeria, the main source of piracy in the region, accounted for 29 piracy incidents, including two hijackings, 11 ships boarded, 13 vessels fired upon and three attempted attacks,” said IMB.

Explaining further, the group said, “pirates, often heavily armed and violent, are targeting vessels and their crews along the coast, rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters. In many cases, they ransack the vessels and steal the cargo, usually gas oil.”

Foremost maritime lawyer, Mike Igbokwe has, however, advised the federal government to adopt every measure possible towards curbing piracy in the nation’s maritime domain, stressing that the cost implications on the economy cannot be fully quantified.

In a paper on piracy titled: “Maritime Piracy and Security in Nigeria- and Evaluation” he said while the menace globally cost between $13 to $16 billion, the cost implication on Nigeria was better imagined.

He said: “It is estimated that Piracy costs world trade an estimated 13 to 16 billion United States dollars annually, which could increase in the coming years. In evaluating maritime piracy and security in Nigeria, it is submitted that such exercise would not be complete without also evaluating maritime piracy and security in the Gulf of Guinea which also adjoins it.”

Explaining further, he said: “The Gulf of Guinea is an important maritime route for international shipping from Europe to America to West, Central and Southern Africa. The importance of the region in the global energy supply is underscored by the fact of its proximity to Europe and North America for the transportation of crude oil and gas from the region. It has been aptly observed that energy trade and security largely depends on maritime transport and the Gulf of Guinea is estimated to currently be the source of around 5.4 million barrels of oil per day with the capacity for increased production annually with recent oil and gas discoveries and developments in the region.

“Regrettably, in recent times the region has become synonymous with violence, hijackings, kidnappings and deaths as a result of piratical incidences in the region. The region is the second most dangerous area in the world for maritime transport as it accounted for nearly 30 per cent of attacks in African waters between 2003 and 2011″, he stated, adding that with the growing trend had also come into effect, new piratical dimensions, shifting from “attacks directed at cargo, attacks carried out for logistic purpose (example, to steal food, fuel and other resources” to those linked to kidnap and capture of ships, particularly oil tankers; siphoning and reselling their cargo and finally, to hijacking of ships and holding hostages to obtain ransom.

Igbokwe explained that while attacks within the Somalian waters had significantly reduced, those of the Gulf of Guinea, where Nigeria is situated were still on the rise, aside from also being more violently executed.

According to him, while the region accounted for 153 attacks or attempted piracy attacks, Nigeria came up as the regional table leader, in 2014; beating Cote d’ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon and Guinea, which also, have become the ‘hot spots’ for piratical attacks.

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