By Stephen Ubanna
Until Friday, April 19, 2019, officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Surveillance and Rescue Team and Officers of the Nigerian Navy , Eastern Naval Command, Calabar, Cross River state , in south -south Nigeria, were at a loss over the abduction of six Sailors of the Apcus, a Palau-flagged Petroleum products tanker of 3,000 deadweight tonnes, DWT, anchored off Bonny Island by Pirates , described as Nigerians.
The abduction of the Oil tanker Sailors may have forced the NIMASA Surveillance and Rescue Team officials and the Naval personnel to go back to the drawing board to re- statrategise for on how to keep the country’s territorial waters safe from the activities of pirates who are making things difficult for International Shipping Companies sailing into or out of the ports and oil terminals with their cargoes.
The Pirates operations may have sent a signal to Ibok Ekwe Ibas, a Vice- Admiral, and Chief of Naval Staff and Dakuku Peterside, Director General, NIMASA, to show serious concern on how to bring the situation under control. The duo were said to have directed their Patrol and Surveillance teams to ensure that their presence are felt in the length and breadth of the Bonny and Lagos Channels to protect the vessels sailing into the country shores. or outside the port or oil terminals.
Ekwe-Ibas, the Naval Chief, who could not hide his feelings over the embarrassment caused the nation among other maritime nations over the abduction of the six Oil tanker Sailors was forced to give a matching order to Rear Admirals, Habila Ngalabak and Matthew Emuekpere, who are the Flag Officers, Commanding the Western and the Eastern Naval Command respectively to be” proactive in their actions to prevent se the sea pirates from operating in the Nigeria waters in order to compliment the efforts of the NIMASA Coast Guard officials .
The Naval top shots may have realised the importance of Cooperating with other relevant Agencies like the Marine Police, Army and NIMAS, that they had maintained regular interactions with them, particular, the , NIMASA , Surveillance and Rescue officials to enhance their ”policing duties and sustain the internal security of the country. It was not surprising why the Eastern Naval Command and the NIMASA Search and Rescue officials were on top of the abducted Sailors incident.
Insiders told The Value News that Pirates major reason of attacking vessels, particular Oil Tankers to abduct Sailors was basically to ask for ransom. It was learnt that no sooner did information filtered out that Pirates had attacked an Apecus Oil Tanker, and six Sailors arrested, than for Rear Admiral Emuekpere, the Flag Officer ,who was contacted to reach out to the Flag patrol boats Commanders to lauch out investigation immediately to rescue the sailors and t apprehend the Pirates to face the full weight of the law. They did not hesitate in doing so and the sailors were said to have been rescued.
Recall that prior to the recent Oil Tanker attack off Bonny Island and subsequent arrest of six sailors by the unidentified Nigerian Pirates, there had been several other instances where ships had been hijacked and Crew members robbed by pirates. One of such vessels and the Crew members arrested were said to have been freed on the notorious Gulf of Guinea by a Spanish Warship on April 9, 2019 after four days in the pirates den. Another attempt by on April, 15, 2019, by four armed unauthorised men who were said to have boarded an anchored Oil Tanker off the Bonny Channel were said to have been frustrated by the Eastern Naval Coast Guards onboard a Patrol ship. The still resistance put up by the Naval guards may have sent a signal to the pirates that it is no longer going to be business asusual as Rear Admirals Emuekpere and Ngalabak , overseeing the Eastern and Western Naval Commands are ready for them in all fronts to neutralise their efforts at any time.
Maritime analysts averred that in the last decade the country has become a hot spot for piracy activities , competing only with the Gulf of Guinea. A naval source confirmed that between 2006 and 2016, over 6o Oil Tankers were attacked by pirates . It was gathered that in 2011, alone , 30 ships including Oil Tankers and Merchant vessels were hijacked and over 100 sailors kidnapped.
Within the first in the first quarter of this year, The Value News finding shows that there had been fourteen reported cases of pirates attacks on ocean going vessels and Oil Tankers, on Nigerian waters, compared to 22 reported cases in the same period last year.
The source attributed the decline to the efforts of the Flag Officers Commanding the Eastern and Western Naval Command to” actively respond to reported cases of pirate attacks by quickly dispatching patrol boats fitted with guns to neutralise their plan.
Indeed, the continuous piracy attacks on ocean going vessels , particular Oil Tankers, appears to be giving Peterside, the NIMASA boss , a course for concern. With the support of the Naval patrol boats , the government maritime Regulatory agency was said to have” improved and increased its surveillance on the country’s waterways to forestall l the activities of the pirates.
Note that the Navy under the current watch of Ekwe-Ibas, has designed a number of special programmes to patrol the country’s Eastern waterways where the pirate attacks on Oil Tankers are more pronounced to combat the crime with sophisticated technology and modern patrol gunboats. Many believe that whatever achievements that the Navy may have recorded in the recent time was as a result of the good working relationship and understanding with other relevant security agencies including NIMASA.
The good news was that the agency had reactivated its maritime awareness policy , which involves a satellite view of the nation’s maritime space. The quick response of the Navy in launching an investigation into the recent reported attack on an Oil Tanker and kidnap of six Russian sailors may have encouraged the Organisation to hasten efforts to acquire ”fast intervention vessels, maritime helicopter and another special mission aircraft to address the problem of piracy in Nigerian waterways”.
Perhaps to effectively carry out its surveillance and rescue operations , the NIMASA , helmsman had revealed that they were already working closely with the military to ”traina new set of military personnel on maritime security who would be bearing arms . ”NIMASA Coast Guard officials, according to sources, are not allowed by law to bear arms ”. This may have force them to retrain its search and rescue personnel, on ”maritime security surveillance” to be able to cope with the speed of the Naval patrol boats.
Recall that the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, had given the agency kudos for being one of the maritime nations that had recorded at least 80 percent compliance on the International ships and Port Security Code, ISPS. These should gladden the heart of Peterside, and the Agency’s Coast Guard personnel who have been instrumental in policing the waterways and given the pirates the battle of their lives.