By Stephen Ubanna,
When Bashir Jamoh, Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, initiated a three – pronged agenda: Security, Maritime development and shipping development, on assumption of duties last March to be addressed while in office, industry stakeholders took him very seriously. This is because of his deep understanding of the industry.
More importantly,he has the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari and Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers sate and minister of Transportation. His optimism to achieve on the dream was said to have been further strengthened with the delivery of the of the maritime assets required by the Maritime Regulatory agency by HLS Technologies Limited, an Israeli security firm which had won the $195 million contract from the government to do so in 2017.
As at November 20, 2020, Jamoh, had confirmed that over 80 % of the maritime assets which includes Helicopter interceptors, interceptor boats, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Special Mission Aircrafts, Armoured Vehicles,that would be operated by a Special Intervention t team and also linked to the C4i had been delivered.
This is in addition to the supply of Special Mission Vessels. SMV, Take for instance, the two SMVs, that had been delivered by the Israeli security firm, which were baptised DB Lagos and DB Abuja,they were said to have been equipped with sophisticated intelligence gathering capability for time detection and response to illegal activities in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea which is a bad news to the pirates if properly put into use.
Insider sources informed The Value News that the C4i Centre would also be integrated with the Maritime Intelligence system and the Nigerian Navy’s Falcon Eye for real time monitoring of the activities within the country’s maritime space. Note that the key components of the Deep Blue Project, DBP, are air, maritime and Land assets, where the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, under the close watch of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel calls the shot.
Indeed, Jamoh, the NIMASA, Director General, has every reason to take the issue of combating piracy activities in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea very seriously. This is because the country had been losing close to $2.3 billion annually due the activities of the pirates and other Criminalities in the country’s maritime domain. The government’s Integrated National Security and Water ways Protection Infrastructure , popular, DBP, may have encouraged him to pile up pressure on the Israeli security firm to keep to the terms of the agreement of delivering the maritime assets as contained in the signed on the use of the maritime assets contract papers in 20217.
Amaechi, the minister of Transportation may have opened up on the use of the maritime assets when he said the government will deploy the specialis theed assets in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea. As a prelude to deploying the maritime security assets acquired under DBP, theMinisterial Steering Committee, led Bahir Salihi Magashi, a retired Brigadier General and minister of Defence, who was accompanied by Ibok Ekwe –Ibas, a Vice Admiral and Chief of Naval Staff, Amaechi, Jamoh, the NMASA boss and other members of the Presidential Committee,on DBP, had visited Lagos, Warri, Benin and Onne, regarded as the flash points of the piracy activities in the Niger Delta region to inspect the assets at the various locations recently.
They may have visited the four locations at the instance of the Katsina state born Nigerian President, who was said to have invested so much in the nation’s maritime sector over the last six years to confirm the readiness of the Israeli security firm delivered maritime assets for deployment in the Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea ostensibly to tackle the activities of the pirates who are harassing ocean going vessels in Nigerian waters.In July 2020 alone, there had been 53 reported cases of piracy and armed robbery that ha occure around the Gulf of Guinea. This is a 27% increase, according to maritime sources from the same period in 2019.
Investigations by The Magazine shows that while boardings and attempted boardings to steal valuable items from ships and kidnap Crew members are the most common types of incidents, almost a third of other incidents involve hijacking or kidnapping. Security sources informed The Magazine that 50% of all the cases of piracy and sea robbery attacks occur in Nigerian waters which now gives Jamoh led NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy much job to do.
Given what the ministerial Steering Committee may have seen on ground in all the locations visited, the members were optimistic that the DBP, would deliver on the national expectation of safety and security in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea. Magashi, the minister of Defence , who is the Chairman of the Stering Committee on the multi-million dollar project, who could not hide his feelings had expressed ‘’satisfaction with the level of preparedness for the launch of the maritime assets’’ by the Jamoh led NIMASA. He was said to have’’ assured of the Buhari Administration’s Commitment and determination to improve the security in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea’’.
He was said to have further assured the industry stakeholders that ‘’the specification s of the latest intelligence and military hardwares given to HLS Technologies Limited, the Israeli security firm which is handling the contract for the supply of the hardwares would be met. The message , he may be sending across to the industry stakeholdesr and Nigerians in general, was that there was no reason to worry about the Israeli firm not fulfilling its part of the deal.
Although , the newly acquired maritime assets had not been deployed for operations in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, the country’s Naval personnel were said to have been alive to their responsibility of protecting the country’s water ways. But the minister of Defence had alluded to the fact that the Navy had not been able to do much justice in the Gulf of Guinea axis in its operations because it is too vas He is right. The region, alone involves many countries with crimes being committed by citizens of these countries and their Foreign Collaborators. The region , going by the map of the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, covers 11,000 square kilometers and stretches from Angola to Senegegal, in the West Africa Sub-region.
Described as one of the world’s most important trade routes for both oil exports from the Niger Delta region in Nigeria and Consumer goods from the Central and West Africa Sub-regions but security experts believe that it had not been properly guarded which had given room for the pirates o strike with ease.
There is no gain saying the fact that the Congestions at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tincan Island port and Port Multi-services TermiTL,, including the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal,KLT, Phases 1|&2, and the lack of options for ships queing at the Lagos port Channel to spend days ,to enter the port environment, thus making the vessels easy targets for pirates attacks.
It is on record hat that during the first half of 2020, January to June, pirates and sea robbers, had operated at least in eight countries in the region: Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Coted’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Gabon., targeting a variety of vessels which include oil tankers, Container ships, passenger vessels, fishing vessels and numerous other vessels supporting oil drilling/production.
Some three years ago, precisely in March, 2017, at the height of the piracy activities in the region, some 33 countries including Nigeria were said to have come together to carry out maritime security training in the Gulf of Guinea but that was how far they could go. The project may have died from birth due to paucity of Funds, lack of Cooperation among members and poor infrastructural facilities in the region to give the pirates and sea robbers a run for their money.
This may have informed why Magashi, the minister of Defence had said that ‘’with the acquisition of the maritime assets by the government on behalf of NIMASA , the agency and other security agencies are now in a vantage position ‘’to observe , detect and solve the problem of piracy in nation’s waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
He recalled that before the involvement of the Nigerian Navy, described as the strongest in the Gulf of Guinea, in containing the piracy situation in Nigerian waters, particular, , it was very high. Reports from maritime circles shows that since NIMASA, initiated a close working relationship with Ekwe-Ibas controlled Navy, the situation had reduced considerably. ‘’I can say we are in control’’, Magashi, the minister of Defence had said. He believes that the planned implementation of the DBP, will further curtail the Piracy activities in Nigeria waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
Until the maritime assets are fully deployed for operations in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, kidnappings which had become common at the Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea would continue to make firms shipping Companies incur extra costs of operations. The fallout was that the shipping Companies would want to factor in the costs of the independent security contractors, that may hired, and the extra insurance as well as ransome money which may be passed on to the shippers and who, in turn would pass it on to the Conumers. Analysts had put the total cost of additional war risk area premiums incurred by ships visiting the Gulf of Guinea in 2017 alone, at $18.5 million , stating that 35% of the ships transiting the area also carried additional kidnap and ransome insurance totaling $20.7 million.
Amaechi, the minister of Transportation may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians when he disclosed that the training programme for Professionals who would man the maritime assets that had been delivered by the Israeli security firm was proceeding as planned, assuring that it would be concluded soon.
Jamoh, the Director General, NIMASA, who is championing the anti-piracy war in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, had described the deployment of the maritime assets in Nigerian waters to tackle the activities of the pirates as ‘’ the beginning of a new dawn in the nation’s maritime industry’’. Given an insider information, he disclosed that that ‘’the agency had come a long way in the achievement of the dream of halting the evil machinations of the sea Criminals bent on thwarting the country’s yearning for maximum benefits from its rich maritime resources’’
. Jamoh who had been in the picture of the antipiracy war of the agency over the years had said that they are ‘’deploying both technology and advance domain awareness techniques to ensure security of the nation’s waters and the Gulf of Guinea’’.He cited the Command control, Communication Computers and Intelligence, operation centre C4I and training programme. It is instructive to note that that C4i Centre has been in operation since 2019.