By Stephen Ubanna
The attack on MV .Mozart, a Turkish Container ship, off the Coast of Nigeria, in the Gulf of the Guinea, on January 23, 2021, and how to combat Piracy and sea robbery in the region appears to have taken the centre-stage in the International Maritime Organisation, IMO.
Kitack Lim, Secretary General, IMO, has made it clear to the nine member states of the region : Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe that a decisive action has to be taken to be able to stem the increasing incidents of attacks on Container ships and other variety of vessels in the region in the recent years.
The region which had been described by the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, as dangerous in the world of Piracy, may have forced Lim, the Secretary General of the United Nations. UN, Maritime Agency to issued a circular to all the IMO member states including Nigeria, and the shipping Companies, on the need for cargo ships and other ocean going vessels ‘’to implement ‘’ the measures on the Best Management Practices BMP, for the Central and West African sub-region . The circular, No. 4382, was said to have been issued on February 10, 2021.
In the circular, Lim, had stressed the need for ‘’all the stakeholders to work together ‘’ to restore security and reduce threats to the safety and security of Crews and vessels operating in the Gulf of Guinea’’. Security experts believe that the implementation of the BMP, by the Commercial ship- owners will assist ships passing through the high risk area of the Indian Ocean to do so without problem.
The BMP, guidelines, according to informed sources, were said to have been formulated by the International shipping Organisations and Navies of different countries and endorsed by the IMO. The document was said to have been designed ‘’ to provide shipping Companies and seafarers with advice on how to avoid hijack’’. They noted that ships that use the self- protection measures as outlined in the BMP, document are four times less likely to be attacked by Pirates or sea Criminals.
The IMO, officials were said to have taken action that would ‘’enhance the Coordination of initiatives among stakeholders and also facilitating meetings with Bashir Jamoh, Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, believed to be tackling the security challenge in the region with the agency human and resources in partnership with other security agencies personnel, partner the Nigerian Navy. The IMO officials were said to be also holding meetings with the officials of the Inter-regional Coordination centre for the Implementation of Regional Strategy for Maritime Safety and security in in Central and the West African sub-region, ICC, on how to Combat piracy and sea robbery in the Gulf of Guinea to make it a safe area for ocean going vessels.
Already, the IMO Secretary General had made it mandatory for ship owners ‘’to implement the IMO, endorsed BMP, for West Africa’’, ostensibly to avoid, deter, delay and report attacks. Note that the BMP, cover risk assessment, ship protection measures and reporting.
Given that Combating Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, have taken the centre- stage in the IMO, may have encouraged the Organisation to go ahead with its plans ‘’to convene a maritime working group focusing on the Gulf of Guinea at the next session of the Maritime Safety Committee 103, scheduled to take place in May , 2021.
The Maritime Safety Committee 103, Working Group Session, Lim had said would provide opportunity for the IMO member states and International Organisations ‘’to discuss further areas of collaboration and possible action to address the existing problems in the Gulf of Guinea.
He had said that the Organisation is currently working with the ICC, to assist with the implementation of the Yaounde Code of Conduct, YCC,described as regional Code aimed at enhancing maritime security and tackling the problems of Piracy, armed robbery against ships, illegal fishing and other illicit maritime activities in the Gulf of Guinea.
The International Maritime Burau, IMB, latest yearly Piracy report across the world shows that the Gulf of Guinea, recorded the highest number of Crew Kidnappings in 2020. The report shows that the region alone recorded the kidnapping of 130 sailors, taken in 22 separate attacks. According to the IMB report, 96.3% of the attacks on the ocean going vessels happened in the region.
The office of the Naval Intelligence,’’ of the United States, US, shipping threat reports’’, had reported that there were 97 incidents of Piracy and armed robbery at the sea that had occurred in the Gulf of Guinea region as at December 2020. Maritime stakeholders told the Value News that the reported Piracy and sea robbery incidents was a 24% decline in the total number of incidents from the same period in 2019. , A source disclosed that the number of kidnappings, and hijacking of ships and other varieties of vessels had also decreased by 16%. He noted that boardings and attempted boardings to steal valuables from ships and Crews were the most common types of Criminal activities in the region.
Investigation by The Magazine shows that 51% of the Piracy incidents and sea robbery had occurred off the Coast of Nigeria. Although, it shows a decline compared to the 71% that was recorded 2019, Jamoh, the Director General, NIMASA, was not resting on his oars but had has continued to face the Pirates and sea robbers squarely that many of the have been forced to go underground or relocate to Gabon and SaoTome and Principe from where they strike and return back to their location.
There is no gain saying the fact that in 2020, Pirates and Sea robbers were said to have operated off the nine countries in the Gulf of Guinea, which included Nigeria, Benin , Cameroon,Equatorial Guinea, Coted’Ivoire, Ghana, Gabon, Togo, SaoTome and Princcipe, targeting a variety of vessels including tankers, Container ships, General cargo vessels, fishing vessels, Passenger vessels, and other numerous vessels supporting oil production.
The Pirates and sea robbers, may have been succeeding in their attacks on ships because they use motherships to support their operations up to 200 nautical miles from shore. It is not surprising why they could fire at vessels . Even Dryad Global had said that much , noting that the Pirates generally kidnap two to six high value Crew members in any successful Operation . These are the ship master, Chief Engineer, and any western Crew member .
The Kidnapped Crew members are normally taken offshore in the Niger Delta region where the Pirates demand ransom payments in exchange for the safe return of the Crew members. The IMO estimates that the annual cost of Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea , ranges from $565 million to $2billion.
It could be that much that most governments in the region have been late to realize how their absence in the maritime domain have not only costs them untold loss of revenue but also undermines security in land, as the criminals activities starts on Land and end offshore. The IMO, officials may have discovered war against Piracy in the region was only be undertaken by the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari Administration, using NIMASA, which had intensified the anti-Piracy war in the last 11 months in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
Lim may have recognised the Nigeria’s effort to stem Piracy in its waters and the Gulf of Guinea , that he had Commended Jamoh, the NIMASA, Director General , for his ‘’brave and dynamic approach to the nation’s maritime security. The IMO Secretary General’s Commendation letter to Jamoh , barely a few months in office appears to encouraged him to do more to create awareness and sensitize the general public about the dangers of Piracy and sea robbery in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea which must be stopped at all cost.