Nigeria shippers have called on the government to provide adequate security to avert enormous havoc wrecked by the activities of the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea last year, the shippers reveled that they are yet to heave a sigh of relief as they are still in fear as to what the year holds for the seaborne trade.
The Gulf of Guinea’s coastal water constitutes a central shipping lane and experiences high piracy threats. Pirates regularly target commercial ships, bulk carriers, cargo ships and crews. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea continues to spread, with several new hotspots emerging in recent months.
According to media reports, attacks spiked in the last quarter of 2020, raising concerns about what 2021 holds for shippers. In November alone, 36 seafarers were kidnapped from five vessels, including a product tanker managed by Evangelos Marinakis-controlled Capital Ship Management. General cargo ships, a bunker tanker and a heavy lift ship were also raided.
Also, the report of the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC), in the first nine months of 2020, revealed that there was a 40 per cent increase in the number of kidnappings reported in the Gulf of Guinea, compared to the same period in 2019.
Approximately, 95 percent of the global kidnappings during that period occurred in the Gulf of Guinea, involving 80 crewmembers being kidnapped in 14 attacks off Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.
Industry watchers said the waters off Nigeria would likely remain the most prone to piracy and maritime-related kidnappings in the foreseeable future if drastic actions were not taken to curtail the trend.
President, the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, in a chat with The Guardian said the situation prevails because there is no political will to tackle it.
“The politicians have been talking all this while nothing has happened in the country. What they don’t realize is that if they fail to use their offices to solve the problems of this country, they will come back to suffer from the masses.
“War against piracy on Nigerian waters is expected to be coordinated between the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA. If the government feels that NIMASA cannot do it, they should create another agency in the mold of the Coast Guard of America.
“When you talk about piracy, it has a political undertone. Nobody knows, it is just like you are talking about Boko Haram. So, I will urge the Federal Government to brace up and restore security in the nation’s territorial landscape, both on waters and land.” He said.
Head of Maritime Safety and Security, BIMCO, Jakob Larsen, said now is the time for Nigeria to make good its promise to eradicate maritime piracy in 2021.
He said a quick response by air and naval assets is key to the successful interception of pirates, expressing optimism that the threat can be managed easily with a combination of both.
“We hope that Nigeria will invite international navies already deployed in the area to suppress piracy in international waters, as there is no legitimate reason not to seek international cooperation.”
“Now that the assets and capabilities are in place, the coming months will be the litmus test for the country. The eyes of the international community and the shipping industry are on Nigeria,” Larsen said.
To tackle piracy headlong, the Federal Government has invested heavily in anti-piracy capabilities such as coastal surveillance, command and control systems, patrol ships, patrol aircraft, unmanned aircraft, armoured vehicles and training. Stakeholders believe it is time the country leveraged the investment to rid the waterways of piracy.
Minister of Defence, Maj-Gen. Bashir Salihi Magashi (rtd), during the inspection of the maritime security assets acquired under the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, assured that the project would deliver the national expectation of safety and security in Nigeria’s waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
Magashi said the specifications of the latest intelligence and military hardware given to the contractors of the security project would be met.
“So far, so good, I think we are on the right course,” he said. The defence minister added, “Sea piracy is already being tackled by our naval men, whose responsibility is to protect our waterways and they are doing a good job. The Gulf of Guinea is so vast; it involves many countries, with crimes being committed by citizens of these countries. But with the acquisition of the security equipment, we should be able to observe, detect and solve the problem of sea piracy.
“The navy is already containing the situation. Before now, sea piracy was high, but it has reduced to a situation where I can say we are in control. The implementation of this project will further help in this direction,” he said.
Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, said the government was fulfilling a critical national aspiration and ambition of a safe and secure maritime environment where investors, tourists, and operators could confidently come to do business.
Director-General, NIMASA, Bashir Jamoh stated: “We have come a long way in the achievement of this dream, the dream of staying ahead of the machinations of criminals bent on thwarting our yearning for maximum benefits from the rich maritime resources nature has endowed us with.
“We are deploying technology and advanced domain awareness techniques to ensure the security of our waters, up to the Gulf of Guinea.”
Nigeria had signed the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act, 2019 (POMO Act) aimed to ‘prevent and suppress piracy, armed robbery and any other unlawful act against a ship, aircraft and any other maritime craft, including fixed and floating platforms.
In August last year, a court in Port Harcourt fined three men $52,000 each for hijacking a ship in March and securing a ransom of $200,000 for the release of its crew. Jamoh said: “This will serve as a deterrent to other criminal elements who are still engaged in the nefarious activities on our waterways.”