Security of Nigerian maritime domain-issues and options | TalkamNews

The economic importance of the maritime domain to national economy cannot be overemphasized hence the pivotal role the Nigerian Navy plays in providing adequate security in Nigerian waterways and by extension the Gulf of Guinea in line with its constitutional mandate writes IKECHUKWU ALEKE

There is no doubt that a lot of factors contributes or triggers the high level of criminalities in the maritime environment not withstanding its primacy to the socio economic wellbeing of the national economy, as well as survival of several other businesses that depend mainly on marine environment to thrive.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas while enumerating some of these factors also disclosed some of the notable measures the Nigerian Navy had put in place to checkmate sea criminalities in Nigeria’s body water.

Delivering a paper titled “Security of the Nigerian Maritime Domain-Issues and Options” at the West African Shipping Summit Held during the London International Shipping Week on 10 Sep 19, Vice Admiral Ibas also highlighted some global and continental collaborations aimed at guaranteeing security in Nigerian maritime domain.

He observed that the global maritime commons have remained a veritable medium for driving growth, development and prosperity amongst both littoral and land-linked nations in the Twenty-First Century.

African seaborne trade he noted has benefited from this growth albeit with attendant maritime security challenges, particularly within the Gulf of Guinea.

Represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans Naval Headquarters, Rear Admiral BegroyIbe-Enwo, the CNS posited that emerging security occurrences within the Nigerian Maritime domain stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities, stressing ‘their manifestations include attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft.’

While observing that there are also various forms of illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution, Vice Admiral Ibas averred that as the lead agency responsible for security in the vast maritime environment, the Nigerian (NN) has initiated various programmes and operations geared towards creating a safe and secure maritime space for commerce to thrive.

“Permit me at this juncture to state 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). We have also initiated the process of claiming a 350nm extended continental shelf, within the 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 the aforementioned prospects, the frequent abuse by diverse interests across the vast maritime domain has continued to buoy our concerns. More disturbing is the fact that many of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic life line of the nation, with negative impact on development and the well being of our citizens.

Considering the wide expanse of 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. I am therefore pleased to join this important discussion on: Security of the Nigerian Maritime Domain- Issues and Options,” he explained.

He reiterated that most of the issues involved in the security of Nigeria’s maritime domain stem from non-military causes which usually manifest in the form of sea robbery or piracy, economic crimes and theft of hydrocarbon resources as well as other transnational organized crimes.

In the last 2 decades, he said 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, adding ‘It is estimated that the annual cost of piracy to the GoG region is over USD 2 billion.’

Another major issue affecting the security of the maritime domain, CNS observed is the poor socio-economic conditions of the people of the Niger Delta region.

He said, “The region like most 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 as well as operation of illegal crude oil refineries. The economic condition 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.”

While still addressing the global audience the Naval Chief shifted the discourse to the effort by the service to sanitise the maritime environment from the above enumerated sea crimes, saying, ‘having apprised you some of the basic issues contending the peaceful use of Nigeria’s maritime environment, let me share with this respected audience, the efforts of the NN at emplacing a viable domain for maritime business to thrive.’

“I would begin by first highlighting some NN independent operational engagements established to check criminality at sea. Two of these operations include Operation Tsare Teku an anti-piracy operation and Operation River Sweep which is an anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) and anti-Illegal refining operation. I am glad to inform that since the activation of the anti-piracy operation 3 years ago, there has been a successive decline in reported cases of piracy/sea robbery attacks within Nigeria’s maritime domain.

“The operation has also 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. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has attested to the successes of Operation River Sweep, confirming huge savings for the nation due to massive reductions in pipeline product losses between 2015 and 2018,” he highlighted.

Vice Admiral Ibas said that apart from these 2 specifically designed operations, which are accentuated by the Choke Point Regime, the NN continues 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 he noted is able to conduct round the clock surveillance of Nigerian maritime space using Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) facilities in addition to surface vessels and helicopters to ensure effective electronic tracking of vessels within the maritime environment whether fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) or not.

While observing that following the historic tracking and arrest of the hijackers of a tanker Mt Maximus by the NN at the fringes of Sao Tome and Principe in 2016, CNS said NN patrols are more mission oriented with attendant reduction in operational logistics cost.

He said that the systems, which serve as force multipliers has enabled the Service to continue to achieve several successes using the MDA.

Vice Admiral Ibas recalled that 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 recently 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 positive impact on NN maritime policing duties.

“To enhance maritime operations, the NN also engages regularly with various stakeholders. 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 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,” he posited.

He said one of the positive outcomes 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.

The CNS added that before the launch of the HSOP, the NN constantly engages directly with each agency on modalities for implementation, thus creating the desired synergy, resulting in arrest of over 130 vessels within the past 2 years.

The HSOP he noted was further boosted as a legal instrument for the prosecution of maritime crimes in Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill of 2019.

He also theorised that pertinently, the Act would serve as strategic deterrent to the commission of various criminalities within the nation’s maritime environment and curtail the excesses of syndicates that continue to profit from sponsoring acts of piracy within the GoG.

The Act according to him demonstrates the government’s resolve to enforce maritime law within the region towards changing global negative perception of the GoG as a haven for insecurity.

He nonetheless said considering the transnational and migratory nature of these maritime crimes there is the need for even greater international collaboration to boost maritime law enforcement.

In conclusion, Vice Admiral Ibas emphasized the need to recognise the centrality of collaboration with other maritime nations and international maritime agencies in order to achieve successful maritime security operations, while ending with the foregoing words, “the NN has equally shown commitment to strengthening international collaboration towards improving maritime security in the GoG.”

By Ikechukwu Aleke, Abuja

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