Ever since the re-emergence of global economic crisis in 2008 coupled with political instability in some parts of the world and indeed Africa, shipping business in Nigeria and in other parts of the world has not been the same. The activities of sea pirates have been on the increase thereby escalating situations in the horn of Africa off the Somali coast with frequent reports of Somali pirates seizing vessels and crew taking hostages while lives were lost. Also, hundreds of millions of dollars was paid out in ransom. The concerns of many especially maritime stakeholders had been the negative effect on global shipping as a result of disruptions in the sector while threat to safety and commercial shipping has raised an alarm that drew an international response.
Globally, in the last few years, the news has not been cheering at all. Since 2011 reports from the International Maritime Bureau and International Maritime Organization have shown a marked increase in acts of maritime piracy along Africa’s west coast to a level that now rivals incidents of piracy around the Horn of Africa. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, however, is drastically different from the type of piracy seen off the coast of Somalia in which ship crews are typically held captive for ransom.
Instead, pirates along Africa’s west coast actively disrupt vital commerce by stealing crude oil, fish and other cargo in transit, often injuring or killing crew members in the process. The effect of this type of piracy is immediately felt in the pockets of every Nigerian citizen as incomes dependent on the sale of the heisted cargo diminish and prices for these goods rise as they are lost to the black market.
Recent events continue to highlight the inadequacies of the Nigerian anti-piracy legislation and its inability to effectively pursue and prosecute pirates according to the regulations of the IMO.
Nigeria loses $2b to maritime insecurity yearly
Nigeria is said to be losing a staggering $2 billion (N330 billion) to maritime insecurity annually. According to maritime experts, Nigeria loses about $800 million yearly to poachers who came to take away different species of fish from the nation’s waters unchecked in addition to losing $9 million to piracy annually and $15.5 million annually to oil theft.
Also, recently, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Dieziani Alison-Madueke was said to have lost N1.29 trillion to maritime security breaches, which represents a quarter of the nation’s annual budget. In 2012, Nigeria recorded 27 incidents with 4 vessels hijacked 13 vessels boarded, 8 fired upon and 2 attempted attacks.
As parts of efforts to curb this anomaly, which experts said occur unabated on the nation’s waterways, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) recently entered into a partnership with the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in order to ensure safety and security on the waterways.
Former Legal Adviser and Secretary to the Board of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Barrister Mathew Egbadon said at a forum recently that, “A lot of illegalities are going on in our waters; in the Gulf of Guinea in particular and if the situation is not confronted, the countries in this region will be poor because of the nefarious activities that go on their hence, there is need for NAF to come on board to help fight illegalities on our water. If the rate of impunity that thrives in the Gulf of Guinea is not combated, countries in the Gulf of Guinea would remain poor.
“Aside crude oil export, 65 percent of total maritime traffic in volume and value in West Africa pass through Nigeria therefore all hands must be on deck to fight this scourge.”
As with Nigeria, so is with other African countries
Piracy has equally been at its peak in other parts of Africa. For instance, it was reported that in the Gulf of Guinea, piracy is rising with 58 incidents in 2012 comprising 10 hijackings with 207 crew members taken hostage. The story is the same off the Coast of Ivory Coast where one incident recorded in 2011 rose to 5 in 2012 and in the last quarter of the same year. Within 9 months of 2013, worldwide incidents of piracy include 176 reported cases and 10 hijackings out of which Nigeria has 28 cases of piracy and 2 hijackings, while Somali has 10 cases and 2 hijackings.
Late in 2013, it was reported that ‘‘pirates attacks off Nigeria’s Coast increase three folds,’’ while two US sailors were kidnapped from an oil supply vessel off the nation’s coast within the year. West Africa’s coast has become an increasing target for pirate attacks.
In 2014, the situation has not changed significantly as maritime scholars and stakeholders are perturbed by the character and nature of this crime. Experts said these are the excesses of maritime piracy despite various countermeasures applied.
Nigerian navy tackles pirates headlong
However, the Nigerian Navy has taken the Bull by the Horn to curb the menace; following the recent arrest of over 40 vessels involved in illegal activities at the Gulf of Guinea. Also, not relenting, the Nigerian Navy said its now collaborating with the United States and other member-states of the region for a holistic policing.
The Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Eastern Naval Command (ENC), Rear Admiral Joseph Aikhomu said that the Gulf of Guinea was facing numerous security challenges like piracy, crude oil theft and illegal bunkering, unreported and unregulated fishing, drug and human trafficking as well as proliferation of small and light weapons.
These challenges which he described as disturbing, prompted the Nigerian Navy to collaborate with the US Office of Security Cooperation (OSC) to bring to the fore “the necessity of improving maritime domain awareness of the Gulf of Guinea and the need for member-states to collaborate in terms of intelligence gathering and information sharing.”
The FOC revealed that “the US has assisted many Africa countries to establish coastal surveillance stations, hence the need for collaboration and cooperation to meet the emerging challenges.” According to him, the need to check crime in the region was because of its strategic importance as Nigeria and other countries within the gulf depended on the sea for transportation, food, trade, energy and capital.“ All of which are essential ingredients of national security and imperatives of economic growth and national development,” he said.
It is in the light of the above that the Federal Government has ordered that any port and terminal facility across the country having security deficiencies be shut down following the arrival of officials of the United States Coast Guards in Nigeria to carry out security audit exercise on Nigerian ports.
Maritime stakeholders hoped that all these measures being put in place will help to curb this stigma that has robbed Nigeria of income worth billions of naira.
Also, the federal government has also been advised to appoint experienced experts to oversee the administration of the maritime industry and grant private sector a high degree of control in the industry.
Experts said that piracy has thrived because the pirates know they can get away with their crimes. They, therefore, said that the only well-coordinated efforts among different national agencies and international navies will reduce piracy incidents. They also said that the capacity of the navy, the agency statutorily vested with the power to police the seas, should be strengthened for effective service delivery.