· Experts query NIMASA’s endless security contracts
· Navy deploys 15 warships to combat piracy
By Kenneth Jukpor
Despite the efforts of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy, the problem of piracy on the nation’s territorial waters persist as a result of many factors but clearly due to inadequate security personnel.
Speaking with MMS Plus on the condition of anonymity, a senior Naval officer lamented that the Nigerian Navy has been starved of the requisite funding to effectively guard the nation’s maritime assets and protect the territorial waters.
Our source revealed that the Navy had identified thirty-three (33) critical locations that require manning in the maritime domain, however, he lamented that they have only been able to cover nine locations as a result of shortage of funds and equipments.
The Naval source who represented the Navy at a recent strategic meeting organized by the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS), said, “We have security blogs all over the country. We have in the Eastern region as well as the Western axis. The Navy has identified over thirty-three (33) security points that should be duly manned but only nine (9) have been addressed. At the end of the day the volume of resources and personnel needed for the job is quite overwhelming”
Speaking further, he also lamented that other stakeholders in the shipping sector haven’t been supportive especially for issues of arrest of vessels.
“There is need for all stakeholders to come onboard to address the issues of arrest. There is a document where we have all partners and their specific roles. When you arrest a vessel and call NIMASA, NSCDC, Police and other security agencies depending on the nature of that vessel. In most cases they don’t react and the vessels become burdens to the Nigerian Navy. Right now, two of such vessels have gone aground and the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command has been burdened with numerous calls from Abuja.
As part of efforts to solve this problem, he urged all maritime stakeholders involved in handling ship arrests to be prompt in playing their roles to expedite the issues of ship arrests.
At the event, experts analyzed the challenges ranging from insecurity to natural impediments, political will, corruption and politics, among others.
Also speaking at the event, Mr. Anthony Ogadi who represented the NIMASA Director General argued that the limited indigenous participation in shipping had increased the piracy in the country as host communities perceive the foreigners as invaders.
“How do the inhabitants of the Eastern ports perceive the operators of the shipping lines that come there? How many of the ships are owned by Nigerians? For instance in 2018, over 1,200 crude oil freighters came to lift oil from Nigerian shores. How many are owned by Nigerians? How many are seen as investments that should be protected? This underscores the reason NIMASA has been striving to get NNPC change the crude affreightment terms from FOB to CIF and allow more indigenous participation.
“So, each time these ships come in they are seen as foreigners who have come to exploit the God-given wealth of the host communities. In no distant time, we intend to ensure that indigenous participation in shipping would be significant so that host communities can relate with the investments as theirs” he said.
Ogadi also revealed that NIMASA signed a security contract in 2017 which was being supervised by the office of the National Security Officer. He expressed confidence that the new contract whose details he didn’t want to reveal, would quell the menace of piracy in the country.
“It is an integrated concept that has all Military Services such as the Navy, Army, DSS and Police onboard. This platform is expected to kick-off in no distant time. The trainings are ongoing. NIMASA has taken crucial steps to tackle this issue of insecurity and in no distant time we would see the problem reduced to the barest minimum. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag”, he said
Meanwhile, industry stakeholders have lampooned NIMASA’s numerous security contracts signed in recent years without addressing the problem while the agency parts with mind-boggling sums.
Giving credence to this, the President of NCS, Mr. Andy Isichei said, “Rather than duplicate awards for security that aren’t yielding the desired results, the country should invest such funds in empowering the Navy. The Navy needs this support to enable them effectively protect the maritime domain”
Isichei also admonished other maritime stakeholders to partner with the Navy in ensuring speedy deliberations on ship arrests.
“The Navy does effective surveillance, effective response, they arrest and hand-over the culprits and the maritime assets seized to the enforcement agencies. Often times, most of these agencies are unwilling to follow-up the arrest and they allow the vessel and culprits to go scot-free” he added.
Meanwhile, in a related development, the Nigerian Navy has deployed 15 warships and over 500 personnel to the annual multinational maritime exercise codenamed “Obangame”.
The Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Obed Ngalabak revealed this last week, noting that the exercise was sponsored by U.S. Africa Command.
According to him, the initiative is aimed at improving cooperation and tactical expertise among participating navies in order to increase maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea.
“We have over Nigerian 15 warships participating in the exercise; we have eight ships actively participating that will go into the sea, while the rest would be placed on standby.
“The number of personnel participating in the exercise could be over 500 because each ship has its own personnel; some have up to 200, some 50 and so on. So, we have about 500 personnel participating.
“Outside the training, the collaboration has helped to establish a good platform for sharing information with our sister African nations,” Ngalabak said in a telephonic news conference organized by the U.S Embassy, Abuja last week.
Speaking on the exercise, the Commander, Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa, Capt. Eric Conzen said “the exercise has proven successful in past years in building capacity.
He said, “I’m looking forward to working with our African partners to address maritime crime.