Pirates swoop on ships, crew sailing on Nigerian waters

Nigeria recorded 31 incidents of pirate and armed robbery attacks against ships in a space of six months, the highest, according to the International Maritime Bureau, that reported that Nigeria was followed only by Indonesia with 25 incidents of piracy attacks.

Other African countries recorded one attack each, except for Ghana, Republic of Benin, which recorded five attacks each and Democratic Republic of Congo, which recorded two attacks. In the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, piracy is defined as any illegal act of violence or detention or any act of depredation committed for private ends by the crew of a private ship or private aircraft and directed on the high seas, against another ship or against persons and property on board such ship or aircraft.

It also says the act may be directed against a ship, aircraft or property outside the jurisdiction of the state, or any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or an aircraft, persons or property with the knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft.

Fourteen of the attacks recorded in Nigeria occurred in Lagos ports while other attacks occurred elsewhere. Eleven of the ships were reportedly steaming during the attacks.

Around that period, 102 people were taken a hostage, 25 kidnapped, three injured. According to the report, pirates around the Lagos coastal waters are usually well armed, violent and have attacked, hijacked and robbed vessels, kidnapped crews along the coasts, rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters.

“In the past, attacks were reported up to about 170 nautical miles from the coast. In many past incidents, pirates hijacked the vessels for several days, ransacked the vessels and stole part of the cargo, usually gas oil.  “Generally, all waters in/off Nigeria remain risky,” IMB said.

The IMB noted also that, “off Bayelsa/Brass, Bonny Island, Port Harcourt, there has been a dramatic increase in attacks, hijackings, kidnapping of crews.” It advised vessels to “take additional measures in these high risk waters.” The Bureau stated that as a region, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 46 of 127 incidents of piracy attacks.

Incidents of pirate attacks that happened in quick succession in Nigeria in the early months of 2018 would later corroborate the Bureau’s report.

One of them happened in February when a Bahamas flagged cargo ship was attacked, fired upon and boarded by eight armed pirates near Bonny Island. A crew member was injured during the attacks. The pirates reportedly stole the ship’s properties, cash and kidnapped four crew members before escaping.

In March, a Chinese flagged fishing vessel was attacked and hijacked by armed pirates near Badagry. The pirates were said to have forced the crew members into the Republic of Benin waters where they kidnapped two members before releasing the fishing boat.

The following month, April, a Panamanian flagged Bulk Carrier was attacked by armed pirates near Brass. Four pirates armed with guns in a speed boat boarded the ship. The alarm was raised and all 19 crew members mustered in the citadel.  The IMB Piracy Reporting Council liaised with the Nigerian Navy and the owners to request for immediate assistance.

The Navy dispatched a patrol boat to the location. The pirates fired upon the ship and damaged the ship’s equipment and accommodation. They stole cash and properties and escaped before the Navy patrol boat arrived. Naval personnel boarded the ship, rescued the crew and escorted the ship to a safe port. Two weeks later, on April 21, a Dutch flagged General Cargo ship en route Nigeria from Ghana was attacked by pirates near Bonny Island.  The pirates kidnapped 11 crew members and escaped.  The incident was reported to the Nigerian Navy and a patrol boat was dispatched to the location.  Naval personnel boarded and searched the ship. A total of three crew members were found safe onboard.

The ship then sailed under naval escort to a safe location. The 11 kidnapped members were later released safely.

Nigerian authorities confirm attacks

Although the Nigerian Navy said that 34 piracy and 20 sea robbery attacks were recorded in the nation’s maritime domain last year, a maritime intelligence expert and the Secretary of the Merchant Navy Directorate, Captain Alfred Oniye, reportedly said the total of 79 attacks were recorded last year.

He added also that 15 fresh attacks were recorded between January and February 2019. Oniye said the Navy only covered five per cent of the territorial waters and 36 creeks out of 6,000 on the inland waterways. “In this year alone, we have recorded 15 attacks, I have the fact with us with evidence. These are the ones reported.”

He claimed that most of the attacks were covered up and unreported by the authorities. He also alleged that most of the attacks were orchestrated with collaboration from security officers who had been compromised. The Directorate scribe also alleged that people committing the attacks were certified seafarers who did not have jobs.

“If the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency does not do anything about the unemployed seafarers, a time is coming that they would begin to kidnap NIMASA staff members, the directors are already exposed to that,” Shipping Position, an online maritime news platform quoted him as saying.

“The game is going to shift from seafarers and foreigners, it would shift to NIMASA directors; some of them would not be able to enter their offices again. They know the problems; they are the ones collecting money from these boys to regulate their certificates.” Oniye said that the certificates issued to seafarers could not be used outside Nigeria.  He pointed out that some Nigerian ships did not accept Nigerian certificates.

“Ghana’s certificate is more acceptable than Nigerian Certificate of Competency, and when this continues what happens? They would bounce back on Nigerians. “We are not saying this to pamper criminality, we have also sailed the creeks.” NIMASA has trained over 5,000 Nigerians under its Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme but most of these trainees need sea time training aboard foreign vessels to be qualified to get jobs. NIMASA has been sponsoring batches of the trainees for the sea time training. Last year, the agency sponsored over 700 cadets.

Nigeria’s economy suffers huge losses as a result of the insecurity along its waterways.

In December, the United Nations Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, said in a report that Nigeria lost an estimated $2.8bn in revenues in 2018 to maritime crimes.

“Between January 1 and November 23, there were 82 reported incidents of maritime crime and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea,” the Report stated. Back home in the Niger Delta region that witnesses frequent incidents of piracy and maritime crime, economic development is very low.

For instance, the ports in Warri, Sapele and Burukutu have been abandoned for decades due to insecurity, resulting in the decay of their infrastructure and silting of their channels. It was only in 2018 that the Nigerian Ports Authority rehabilitated the Escravos channel to make navigation easy for oil tankers and other vessels.

A very unappealing alternative

The major reason for rehabilitating the eastern ports was to ease traffic congestion in Lagos where most importers prefer to direct their cargoes. But despite efforts and investments put into them, the eastern ports have remained unattractive to importers and other investors who have continued to shun them for fear of pirate attacks.

The concessionaires in Port Harcourt, Messrs Port and Terminal Operators Limited and BUA Ports and Terminals, lamented that their operations were hindered by recurrent attacks on vessels around Bonny waters.

A freight forwarder, Jay Michael, said, “A boss of mine who is an operations manager in charge of discharging and loading vessels at GAC shipping agency, said militancy, extortion and piracy were the most serious impediments to their operations.

“It is mostly oil companies that ship essential equipment through the Rivers port. Though some businessmen ship goods through the port, the rate is very low. “The oil companies and the shipping agents to those oil vessels have money enough to settle the community dwellers and avoid trouble. The oil industry that utilises Rivers port due to proximity usually doesn’t worry about cost. Besides, some of the equipment may be too large and cumbersome to transport by road if shipped from Lagos.”

He added, “Except it is absolutely necessary, businessmen prefer the Lagos port.” Confronted with complaints that the Eastern ports were not being patronised, the Managing Director,  NPA,  Hadiza Bala-Usman, said, “NPA cannot compel importers to route their goods through the Eastern ports. Importers are at liberty to route their cargo through whichever port they like.”

The situation is also reflected in the low vessel traffic to the area as captured in the National Bureau of Statistics. The NBS reported that only 499 vessels called at Rivers port in 2012, against 1,445 vessels that called at the Lagos Port Complex and 1,508 vessels that called at the Tin Can Island port in the same year. In 2013, 439 ships called at the Rivers port. Lagos port, in contrast, got 1,510 vessels, while Tin Can Island port recorded vessel traffic of 1,615.

In 2014, 430 ships called at the Rivers port while LPC received 1,503 vessels and Tin Can Island port got 1,692 vessels. In 2015, the number of vessels calling at the Rivers port dropped to 373.  Its Lagos counterpart got 1,410 vessels while Tin Can Island got 1,656 vessels.

Vessel traffic in Rivers port further reduced to 317 in 2016.  The LPC recorded 1,559 vessels while Tin Can Island recorded 1,559 vessels. In 2017, vessel traffic to Rivers port was 312. LPC welcomed 1,151 vessels, while Tin Can Island got 1,350 vessels. The vessel traffic translates to the volume of business and revenue for the various ports.  The eastern ports are nowhere near the two Lagos ports that generate combined daily revenue of N4bn.

Fighting the menace

While presenting the maritime industry forecast for 2019/2020, the Director-General, NIMASA, Dr Dakuku Peterside, said there were lots of prospects for growth in the maritime industry in the coming years. He noted, however, that Nigeria’s chances of reaping the benefit of the global maritime sector would suffer a setback if the issue of piracy was not dealt with.

Further efforts to combat piracy and keep Nigeria’s waterways safe have seen NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy working round the clock. Nigeria had gone ahead to form partnerships with other countries in the Gulf of Guinea to ensure the safety of ships and crews on Nigerian waters.

In 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari visited Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to sign an agreement on Integrated National Security Strategy to stem the tide of insecurity on the region’s territorial waterways. NIMASA said it had invested heavily in a satellite Monitoring and Surveillance System while the Navy increased the frequency of patrols on the waters and deployed 39 new gunboats and indigenous seaward defence boat for surveillance purposes.

This is in addition to ongoing discussions with host communities and other stakeholders about the inimical effect of insecurity on the nation’s waters. In February, NIMASA in collaboration with an Israeli security firm, HLSI Security Systems and Technologies Limited, started training members of the armed forces, including the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Air Force, Nigerian Police, the Department of State Services, on the C4I Integrated Surveillance Systems operation, aimed at aiding the coordinated fight against crime.

‘’As part of our efforts towards tackling piracy and other maritime crimes, which continue to constitute threats to vessels plying our territorial waters, the C4I System Operator Course is a part of the total maritime security strategy adopted under this management to give us the best eye view of our domain and ultimately halt insecurity in order to ensure that our maritime industry optimises its potential of contributing majorly to Nigeria’s economic growth,”  Peterside said.

In recognition of the threat insecurity posed to the maritime sector, Peterside disclosed that NIMASA had sponsored a bill to give cases of piracy speedy attention in the legislature. Nigeria is also a member of the G7 Friends of the Gulf of Guinea Group, stakeholders that had joined forces to tackle the issues of maritime crimes bedevilling the region.

Led by Italy, the G7++ regard the Gulf of Guinea, with over 6,000 nautical miles stretching from Senegal to Angola, as vital to the economy of nations. The G7++ comprises Germany, Canada, United States, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Brazil (observer), South Korea, Denmark, Spain, Norway, The Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the European Union.

In a meeting held in Lagos hosted by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete- Ibas , the group focused on the fight against piracy, illicit trafficking of narcotics, weapons, human beings and goods, illegal fishing and marine litter, as well as the development of the maritime economy as a whole. Earlier, the group held a meeting in Rome, Italy, where more than 120 participants from over 40 countries, regional organisations, non-governmental organisations and companies met to discuss the security conditions of navigating in the GoG, where ships are often attacked by pirates. The Punch

The G7++ President, Mr Daniele Bosio, said the important proof of the ever-increasing involvement of the African partners in building the region’s maritime security influenced the decision to hold the second annual meeting in Lagos.

The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, attributed the increasing incidents of piracy to the socio-economic issues in the Niger Delta region coupled with the activities of external collaborators who derived pecuniary benefits from internationally organised crimes.

He said, “To change the narrative of insecurity and criminality in the Nigerian waters, the Nigerian government adopted the hard and soft power approach, including bilateral and multilateral collaborations with organisations and countries within and outside the region.

“The hard power approach is spearheaded by the Nigerian Navy in conjunction with other maritime security stakeholders including NIMASA. Punch

Pix: Pirates attacking ship on water