By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that Pirates who had been harassing ocean going vessels operating in Nigerian waterways and the Gulf of Guinea Crew members would hit and go unpunished need to do a rethink.
This is because it is not no longer going to be business as usual for them as Bashir Jamoh, the Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, has given his words to implement the country’s anti-piracy Law which was sponsored as a bill by the Maritime Regulatory agency, under the former Management headed by Patrick Akpobolokemi in Collaboration with the IMO, in 2012. It was said to have been followed up by Dakuku Petrside, his successor, described in maritime circles as a fast learner until it was signed into Law by President Muhammadu Buhari. in 2019.
The essense of the Law, according to insider sources is” to ensure safe and secure shipping activities in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, prsecute infractions and Criminalise piracy”.
Jamoh, the NIMASA Drector General, was said to have restated the agency’s commitment and collaboration with other relevant agencies and stakeholders, particular, the Nigerian Navy and the Police, ‘’for the security of the country’s maritime domain’’. The NIMASA, Director-General stated this in Lagos during the official handover of the suspected pirates arrested by the Navy for prosecution.
The 10 pirates, according to Naval sources, had on May 15, 20202, attacked and boarded a Chinese vessel, MV Hailufang II, off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire and directed it towards the Nigerian waters. Luck may have run out of them as they were arrested by the Nigerian Naval personnel, dispatched with a ship to intercept the vessel after it got an alert.
A NIMASA source told The Value News that the prosecution of the pirates would be the first trial of the bandits arrested in international waters under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences ,SPOMO, Act signed into law in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari. The law, according to Peterside, a former Director General of the agency made Nigeria the first country in the West and Central Africa Sub-region to have domesticated the SOOMO Act.
An elated Jamoh had attributed the successful Naval operation that led to the arrest of the pirates and the rescue of the ship and its crew members to collaboration between the NIMASA Surveillance personnel and the Navy. The NIMASA boss who could not hide his feelings had assured that the Agency ‘’will continue to work with relevant security agencies in order to achieve its goal of eradicating piracy and all forms of illegality on the Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea’’.
Many believe that without the President signing the anti-priacy bill into Law, Lawyers would have found it as a loophole to pursue for the release of the arrested suspected pirates to its logical conclusing. But their wings appear to have been clipped because of the new Law which provides for their prosecution.
Jamoh, who was said to have been represented at the handover ceremony in Lagos by one Victor Egejuru, had assured that with the anti-piracy law, ‘’there was ample legal framework to prosecute pirates and other perpetrators of maritime offences in the country in order to reduce the menace to barest minimum’’.
Ibrahim Shettima, a Commodore and Commander of NNS, Beecroft who gave details of the naval operation, said the vessel had 18 crew members comprising Chinese, Ghanaians, and Ivorians. The Commodore disclosed that ‘’on interception of the vessel about 140 Nautical miles south of Lagos Fairway Buoy, the pirates refused to comply with the orders from the Naval personnel, forcing them ‘’to conduct an opposed boarding of the vessel. All ship crew memebers were safely rescued, while the 10 pirates were also arrested.”
The NNS Beecroft Commander had called for increased regional cooperation and information sharing, stressing that the arrest of the pirates was due to a tip-off by the Beninoise Navy. He warned criminal elements still operating in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea to stay away or be ready to face the dire consequence of facing the full weight of the Law. ‘’The Navy has the capability to deal with threat of pirates in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea’’, he had said.
Meanwhile, Jamoh, has made it clear to Industry stakeholders that the NIMASA under his close watch ‘’will focus on three main areas in the next four years: Maritime Security, Safety, and Shipping Development, expected to guarantee a robust maritime domain for the country.
This should gladden the heart of indigenous and foreign ship owners who have put their vessels on Nigerian waters for genuine business.