By Stephen Ubanna
For years, Pirates and other Criminal elements operating in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Gunea, popular, GoG, appar to have been having their way in harassing ocean going vessels and taking Crew members, mostly, Foreigner hostage.
The maritime situation of the country was very worrisome that many multi-national shipping companies were forced to keep away from the Nigeria waters as they had preferred to trans- load their cargoes in the mid sea to smaller vessels coming to Nigeria for fear of being attacked by Pirates.
The Leadership of the Nigerian Navy may have taken advantage of the security lapses created by the Nigerian Ports Authority , NPA, and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, to address the challenge by contracting Ocean Marine Solutions Limited OMSL, and other companies , to provide security for all vessels ,particular, within the Lagos pilotage district. to avoid playing into the hands of pirates, under its secured anchorage project.
The Lagos pilotage district covers the Lagos port of Apapa, Tincan Island , Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT and Port-Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML.Officials of the OMSL and the other security companies , engaged by the Navy may have known that they were in for trouble when NIMASA, initiated the Deep Blue Project under which it created a new maritime security architecture for the country.
The Deep Blue Project, appears to have won the heart of Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and now, minister of Transportation, who was said to have thrown his political weight on it. He was said to have also taken up the matter with President Muhammadu Buhari, who gave his tacit approval to it .
G Given the Presidential approval for the project , security watchers had said ‘’marked the end of OMSL secure anchorage contract granted to benefitting companies by the Navy’’. Dakuku Peterside, the Director General of NIMASA, was said to have made it known to minister and other top officials of the ministry that there was no basis for the secure anchorage contract to be allowed to subsist alongside the agency new security architecture: the Deep Blue , Project for security reasons. This is evident going by the appeal by NIMASA to the Naval Authorities that the agency will welcome other good ideas on how to tackle the problem created by Piracy in the country.
The minister was said to have equally taken up the matter with Hajia Bala usman, the Managing Director, of NPA and ordered her to terminate the secure anchorage contract , described as illegal in maritime circles. Hajia Usman did not hesitate in doing so. The mininister who could not hide his feelings had said on Monday, February 3, 2020, that he was instrumental to the termination of the Naval Secure Anchorage project contract awarded to a private security initiatives .
The former Rivers state governor had made stakeholders to understand ,including the shipping Companies, that ‘’all vessels coming into the country from the Asian country of China, Europe , United States, US, or any other parts of the world must anchor at the national ports approved by NPA and not at any other anchorage manned by private security firms because of the activities of Pirates in Nigeria waters and the GoG. This should serve as a source of relief to the NPA Managing Director who had been under verbal and physical attack by OMSL officials, for terminating their juicy contract.
Maritime watchers believe that the ministerial Press briefing which was organised last Monday on the Deep Blue project and the termination of the Secure Anchorage Project , by NPA, may have sent a signal to all the Companies involved in the maritime security deal that they may not be recalled again. Flanked by , a Paul Adikwu , Director Maritime Safety by the right hand and Peterside, the NIMSA, Director General , by the left the minister had cleared the air over the termination of the OMSL secure anchorage maritime contract awarded to it by the Navy .’’NPA did not take the decision to terminate OMSL Contract. It was my decision to terminate the contract and I took the decision because there is nowhere in world in which private Companies were given the task of protecting or securing a nation’s maritime waters’’, he had said. He opined that the implication of the secure anchorage contract was a failure in governance and ‘’as the minister of Transportation he could not be associated with it because it was wrong.
He disclosed of the Katsina state born Nigerian President’s determination to tackle the country’s maritime security head- on, stressing that the Deep Blue Project , if it becomes operational by June , it would go a long way to solving the problem of piracy in Nigerian waters and the GoG. He noted that the risks of piracy attacks in the GoG, is putting the progress in the country’s shipping sector on hold’ , with potential investors being deterred due to the heightened maritime security issue.
The International Maritime Bureau has reported that of the 73 percent cases of global kidnappings and 92 percent of hostages that took place between 2018 and 2019,respectively, much of it occurred in the West African sub- region. This may have strengthened the resolve of Peterside to deal decisively with the Pirates operating in the Nigerian waters and the GoG once and for all.
As a prelude for the take off the Deep Blue project, the Federal Executive Council, FEC, gave the ministry of Transportation and NIMASA, the nod to introduce the new maritime security architecture for the country . The FEC,also gave the ministry and NIMASA, the approval to procure all the equipment for the project.
This may have informed why the maritime regulatory agency on the approval of the minister of Transportation engaged the services of the Homeland Security International , HLSI, of Isreal to provide training for the Staff while the Navy was saddled with the responsibility of Coordinating the police, Army and the Department of State Security that would the equipment.
The Isreali security firm, according the NIMASA boss had confirmed is training the operators is in phases . He had said that the first set of training for the C4i operators and Intelligence officers had been concluded. The basic infantory training for soldiers who would be involved in the ground battle around the territorial areas were said to have also been concluded as the soldiers are now awaiting for deployment to the littoral states. Insiders informed The Value News that over 300 soldiers and other security operatives who could handle the Deep Blue P roject security equipment had been trained. This is bad news for the Pirates who may no longer find Nigerian water ways or the GoG , a safe place to carry out their nefarious activities.
The NIMASA Director General, may have taking advantage of the last week press briefing to shed more light on the progress so far made on the Deep Blue project. He may have gladdened the heart of stakeholders when he disclosed that the agency had taken delivery of six armoured aircrafts, six interceptor boats , a special mission vessel, and the Personal Protective Gear, PPG, from the manufacturers.
He disclosed that the first special mission aircraft will be in country before the end of March, this year while the first unmanned aerial vehicle would be delivered by the oversea manufacturing Company before the end of February, 2020, while the first Helicopter for the project is expected to arrive the country this first quarter of the year.
The government was said to have also given NIMASA, the approval for the importation of specialised security gadgets that would be deployed to the Communities that could easily access the agency to give out information, such as walkie-talkie, Cellular systems that can be used under water .
An elated NIMASA Director General had said that 80 percent of the vessels needed for the take- off of the Deep Blue project had been acquired. He has made it clear to maritime operators that the country’s total spectrum maritime security architecture , also known as the Integrated National Security and Waterways protection Infrastructure would be deployed for the project.
Note that the superlative performance of Amaechi and Peterside, in the nation’s maritime sector many have informed why they were w honoured by Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, and Comptroller General , Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, at the last World Customs Day , Celebration, in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.