By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA and the Navy have relaxed over the search of the suspected pirates to rescue the hijacked MT Apecus , an Oil Tanker and the,seven Crew members including Five Indians and other nationals since last April, would be disappointed.
This is because agency and the Navy, paticular, the Naval patrol teams from the Eastern Naval Command , have been on the trail of the suspects. This may have been made possible because all the available escape routes used by pirates in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea , after carrying out their dirty operations , have been effectively blocked , thus making the country’s waters , safer for voyaging vessels .
This may have informed the reason why Dakuku Peterside, Director General, NIMASA, could beat his chest that
As a prelude to rescuing the seven Crew members and five Indians still in the Custody of the suspected pirates , alleged to be from the Niger Delta, Peterside, the agency boss, disclosed that they have commenced ”investigations into the incident involving the Apecus Oil Tanker.
The Oil Tanker, which has an International Maritime Organisation, IMO, no. 733810, was hijacked precisely on April 19, 2019, causing uproar in Maritimes circles. The pirates action may have forced the government maritime regulatory agency to go back to the drawing board on how to make the nation’s waters safe for ocean going vessels .
Given an insider information on the Apecus vessel, the NIMASA, boss stressed that preliminary investigations carried out by the agency between April and now, on the hijacked vessel , has thrown up some unknown facts about the vessel trading activities in Nigeria in . According to him, the” Apecus Oil Tanker has been conducting trading activities in the country since 2014 without any valid permits of documentation”, an indication that at the time of the incident , it was on illegal trading business in the country.
The NIMASA boss , disclosed that the vessel has ” changed name and flag” under which it operates several times. At the last count it was said to have changed name and flag under which it operates, to perpetuate its illegal trading activities in Nigerian waters fifteen consecutive instances.
It was said to have also made five additional changes of name and flag for the vessel since 1993 and four MMSI changes ,to consolidate on its suspected involvement on illegal trading activities in the country waters.
An aggrieved Peterside revealed that the vessel which was hijacked by suspected pirates on April 19, 2019, it was first spotted in Lome port , Republic of Togo, a neighbouring country in the West African sub-region, on February 26, 2019, for about an hour and later in Tema port, Ghana, where it transacted business for about two hours the next
Reports also has it that the vessel was fond of ”switching off her Automatic Identification System , AIS, in order to avoid detection security agencies and had done the same thing in Nigeria prior to being hijacked by suspected pirates. It is not surprising why the NIMASA Surveillance and Rescue patrol team and the Eastern Naval Command patrol team are finding it difficult to locate the whereabouts of the vessel in Nigeria waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
The activities of thePirates in the nation’s waters may have encouraged NIMASA, to sponsor the ”Piracy and other Maritime related Offences Bill”, in the National Assembly. Peterside, the NIMASA boss, may have given a cheery news when he confirmed that Yakubu Dogara led House of Representatives had already passed it but the Bill has undergone second reading in the Bukola Saraki led Senate. He is optimistic that the Senate would eventually pass the Bill expected to give the Navy , Maritime Police and other security agencies the legal backing to further” deal with all forms of maritime security in the country’s territorial waters and the greater Gulf of Guinea domain ”.
In spite of the fact that the Senate has not passed the Bill to force NIMASA , Surveillance and Rescue team including the Naval Patrol teams to be more aggressive in their operations in Nigerian waters in the recent time to forestall the activities of Pirates, that has not stopped them from doing so.
This is evident going by the recent visit of the officials of the port of Antwerp of Belgium, regarded as one of the biggest in Europe and the world
The Port of Antwerp Team, according to a Statement issued and signed by Isichei Osamgbi, a Deputy Director, In-charge of the Agency Public Relations Department were said to have been led by Nico Vertongen, Director , Africa Port of Antwerp International.
Many believe that if the Nigerian waters are not safer for voyaging vessels, the Port of Antwerp would never agree to partner with Nigeria to do business . An elated Peterside , who could not hide his feelings , disclosed that the visit was not unexpected because of the ”long standing relationship between the Belgium Antwerp Port and the Lagos Port Community over the years. ”We have always had a business relationship with the Port of Antwerp either as a destination ports or ports of origin”, he had said.
There are indications that the Antwerp Port
Note that Peterside, the NIMASA boss had earlier told the Belgium team that its ”doors are open and there is a lot they can do together to enhance their business relationship. Already, the agency, has started counting on the gains to the two countries in the business partnership. ”It will open opportunities for training of the country’s Cadets and also give the Antwerp port officials a ”better understanding of how the ports in Nigeria, particular Lagos seaports, and Africa in general work”.
Business analysts believe that the business partnership would lead to increased volume of trade and other areas Cooperation between the giant Belgium port and the Nigerian ports. Going by NIMASA records, between 2017 and now, 302 voyaging vessels from the port of Antwerp alone, had called at Apapa, Tin-can and Port -Multi-services terminal , PTML, including Kirikiri Lighter Terminals, KLT phases 1 and 2, with cargoes.
Insiders confirmed the Magazine that 33
Peterside may have assured Nigerians that there was no cause to worry as the agency is willing to consolidate on the gains of the Nigerian – Belgium relationship”.