By Stephen Ubanna
With the termination of the Secure Anchorage Area, SAA, contract awarded to the Ocean Marine Solutions Limited, OMSL, by the Nigerian Navy described as illegal by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, late last December, without providing an alternative security arrangement in Nigeria water ways, this appears to have exposed Nigeria waters and the Gulf of Guinea to increase Pirate activities. This is evident going by the number of vessels that had been attacked by pirates between December 3, 2019 , and now in the Gulf of Guinea. Some of the attacked Oil Tankers and Merchant vessels were found to be steaming to Lagos or t left the Coast of Cotonou, Benin Republic, with their cargo.
Worried by the activities of pirates in the Gulf Guinea, which has become very embarrassing to the country, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, under the close which of Dakuku Peterside has embarked on measures to ensure a smooth enforcement of the anti-piracy Law that was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 24, 2019. The bill for the anti-piracy law was said to have been initiated by the Agency in 2012 in Collaboration with the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, but that was how far the then Management of the agency could go.
Peterside, the incumbent Director General, of the Maritime Regulatory Agency, was said to have taken advantage of his close contacts with Rotimi Amaechi, a former Rivers state governor, and now, minister of Transportation , to facilitate the approval of the Law by the National Assembly.
He has his reason for pushing for the enactment of the anti-piracy law in order to domesticate the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS,, 1982 and the International Convention of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety Navigation , SUA, 1988 and its protocols. He has his way.
Investigations by The Value News Magazine shows that ever since the assenting of the bill into Law by Buhari, last year, the agency had been involved in sensitisation Workshops and Seminars, to acquaint Judges and the public about it . This may have sent a signal to the pirates operating within the Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea that it is no longer going to be business as usual as anyone caught in the act would be dealt with according to the Law.
The most recent of such Seminars on ‘’Suppression of piracy and other maritime offences, SPOMO, Act. 2019, was organised at the Nigerian Institute of Legal Studies, NIALS, Lagos. It was said to have been organised by the Institute in Collaboration with agency. The NIMASA Director General may have taken advantage of the Seminar to appeal for the Cooperation of the Navy and other security agencies to enforce the Law, stressing that ‘’stringent penalties await the maritime criminals who contravene theLaw.
Giving the importance of the anti-piracy Law, Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan, the Director General, of NALIS, has emphasized the need for the’’ unencumbered implementation of the Law by the NIMASA’’. This is bad news for the pirates and their Collaborators, who are mostly foreign mercenaries, who have been harassing ocean –going vessels and their Crew members in the Gulf of Guinea over the years.
Note that the world over, the Gulf of Guinea in the West and Central African sub-regions had been regarded as the most irate infested area forcing many Indigenous Shipping Companies had spent between $4 million to $6 million to procure a vessel to risk putting on the Nigerian water ways for fear of being attacked by pirates because of the cost of repairs.
The International Maritime Bueau, IMB, reports that there were no fewer than 72 attack on vessels between Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African country of Cameroon in 2018. The region was said to have also recorded 30 pirates attack on vessels in 20190 alone.
One of such attacks recorded in the recent time was that of an oil tanker, that was said to be off the Coast of Bonny Island, Rivers state, on December 3, 2019, The 18 Indian Crew members on board the vessel and a Turkish were said to have been kidnapped by the pirates. The vessel and its cargo content, according to security sources, were not destroyed.
The Magazine gathered that the seven Crew members left on board the vessel were not harmed by the pirates. The Hongkong flagged super Oil anker, Nave Constellation , which is capable of carrying about two million barrels of Crude oil, a is operated by the Greek shipping Company , Navios Tanker Management.
The attack on the Greek operated Nave Constellation oil Tanker was quickly followed by the attack on Alpine Penelope, at the pirate infested Gulf of Guinea. The Oil Tanker was found to be sailing to Lagos Anchorage area on February 20, 2020 but fail into the waiting hands of the pirates. Dryad Global security Company which monitored the incident, reports that the vessel was attacked 76 nautical miles, South West of Cotonou, Benin Republic by two armed men on board the vessel. The Liberian Flagged Tanker was owned and operated by a Greek Company, OceanGold Tankers. The question on the lips of most people was: At what point did the two armed men board the vessel?
The attack on the oil Tanker came barely after one month that MV Bonita, a Merchant vessel, was said to have been attacked by pirates in the same location. . Precisely, the vessel was said to have been attacked on November 3, 2020, off the Coast of Cotonou. Nine Crew members were said to have been kidnapped from the gypsum carrier. For the oil Tanker that was attacked this February, Dryad, a security firm, said nine out of the 24 , Crew members on board the vessel made up of Georgia. Philipino, and Ukrainia nationals, were kidnapped.
Security watchers believe that the vessel and the Crew members may have been exposed to the pirates attack as there were no security, Naval patrol vessels or ship nearby to come to their rescue.
A Maerskline Merchant vessel, Maersk Tema, was also said to have been attacked by the Gulf of Guinea based pirated on February 15, 2020. The vessel which was said to be steaming to Lagos at some 13 knots speed was said to have been attacked around the same location of the Gulf of the Gulf of Guinea, ,fueling speculations making the rounds that it is an organised crime involving security agencies personnel.
Maritime watchers believe that the pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea axisis may have shifted away from seizing vessels and cargoes to kidnapping Crew members who can be ramsomed.The Atlantic Discoverer Container vessel Crew members who were said to have been kidnapped on January 11,2020, off the Cost of Cotonou, were aid to have been released after about 35 days in captivity by their abductors while the Crew members abducted in MV Duke on December 5, 2019, were set free after about one month, that the ship owners were able to meet their financial demand.
Despite the worrisome situation in the Gulf of Guinea in the recent time, Petetrside, the NIMSA, boss may have given hope to the industry stakeholders that there is no cause for alarm as the agency has put the necessary machinery in place to deal decisively with the sea criminals.
He noted that ‘’ there was now a robust framework for the criminalisation and punishment of piracy and other maritime crimes in Nigeria waters and the Gulf of Guinea’’. The NIMASA helmsman who could not hide his feelings had said that ‘’ with the world’s waters accounting for over 80 percent of transportation requirements in the global trading supply chain network across International routes and trade lanes, threats of piracy , armed robbery and other maritime crimes at sea have become an issue of global concern’’.
This may have informed why the Gulf of Guinea , which had remained the home of pirates, had been at the epicenter of maritime discussions globally, given the incidents that had been recorded in the region over the years. An aggrieved Peterside lamented that the ‘’challenge of maritime insecurity in the West and Central African subregions had been compounded over the year by lack of appropriate laws to address the menace. His happiness was that the SPOMO Act which had been signed into Law by the Katsina state born Nigerian President has addressed the challenge in Nigeria.
According to him, the Law aims to tackle the menace of piracy and armed robbery in the country’s water ways but exclusive of the economic zone with a strong and specific legal instrument that prescribes punishment for offenders .
Describing the anti-piracy Act, is the ‘’first standalone law to fight crimes in the Gulf of Guinea region, he disclosed that the Act had prescribed a jail term of between 15 years and life including fines from 50 million to N500 million for individuals and Corporate Organisations convicted of maritime offences. This is bad news for the pirates, who see it as a lucrative business as they have reached the end of the road.