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Maritime: Hopes Of Saving $2billion Yearly In The Gulf Of Guinea Brightens As Combating Piracy In The Region Take The Centre Stage In IMO

By Stephen Ubanna

 The attack on MV .Mozart, a Turkish Container  ship, off the Coast of Nigeria, in the Gulf  of the Guinea, on January 23, 2021, and how to combat Piracy and sea robbery in the region  appears to have  taken the centre-stage in the International Maritime Organisation, IMO.

Kitack Lim, Secretary General, IMO, has made it clear  to the nine member states of the region : Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe that  a decisive action has to be taken to be able to stem the  increasing  incidents of attacks on Container ships and other variety of vessels   in the region in the  recent years.

  The region which had been described  by the International Maritime Bureau, IMB,  as dangerous  in the world of Piracy,  may have forced  Lim, the Secretary General of the  United Nations. UN, Maritime Agency  to issued a circular  to all the  IMO member states including Nigeria, and the shipping Companies, on the need for  cargo ships and other  ocean going vessels   ‘’to implement ‘’ the measures on the Best Management Practices BMP,   for the Central  and West African sub-region  . The circular, No. 4382, was said to have been issued on February 10, 2021.

 In the  circular, Lim,  had stressed the need for ‘’all the stakeholders  to work together ‘’ to restore security  and reduce threats  to the safety  and security of Crews and vessels operating in the Gulf of Guinea’’.    Security experts believe that the  implementation  of  the BMP, by the Commercial  ship- owners  will assist  ships passing through the high risk  area of the Indian Ocean  to do so without problem.

 The BMP, guidelines, according to informed sources, were said to have  been  formulated  by the International shipping Organisations  and Navies of different countries and endorsed by the IMO.  The document was said to have been designed ‘’ to provide  shipping  Companies  and seafarers with advice  on how to avoid hijack’’. They noted that  ships  that use the self- protection measures  as outlined  in the BMP, document are four times  less likely  to be attacked by Pirates or sea Criminals.   

Jamoh: DG, NIMASA

The IMO, officials were said to have  taken action that would ‘’enhance the Coordination of initiatives among  stakeholders and also facilitating meetings  with Bashir Jamoh, Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, believed to be tackling the security challenge in the region with the agency  human and resources in partnership with other security agencies personnel, partner the Nigerian Navy. The IMO officials were said to be also holding meetings with the officials of the Inter-regional  Coordination centre  for the Implementation of   Regional Strategy  for Maritime Safety and  security in  in Central and the West African sub-region, ICC, on how to Combat piracy and sea robbery in the Gulf of Guinea to make it a safe  area for ocean going vessels.

Already, the IMO Secretary General had made it mandatory for  ship owners ‘’to  implement  the IMO, endorsed  BMP, for West Africa’’, ostensibly  to avoid, deter, delay and report attacks. Note that the BMP, cover risk assessment, ship protection measures and reporting.

Given that Combating Piracy  in the Gulf of Guinea, have taken  the centre- stage in the IMO, may have  encouraged the Organisation to go ahead with its  plans ‘’to convene  a maritime  working group  focusing on the Gulf of Guinea at the next session  of the Maritime Safety Committee 103, scheduled to  take place in May , 2021. 

The Maritime Safety Committee 103, Working Group Session,   Lim had  said would provide opportunity  for the IMO member states  and International  Organisations ‘’to discuss further areas of collaboration and possible action to address the existing problems in the Gulf of Guinea.

 He had said that the Organisation is currently working  with the ICC, to assist with the implementation of the Yaounde Code of Conduct, YCC,described as regional Code  aimed at enhancing  maritime security and   tackling  the problems of Piracy, armed robbery against ships, illegal fishing and other illicit maritime activities in the Gulf of Guinea.

The International Maritime Burau, IMB, latest yearly  Piracy report across the world shows that the Gulf of Guinea,  recorded the  highest number of  Crew Kidnappings in 2020. The report shows that the region alone recorded the kidnapping of 130 sailors, taken in 22 separate attacks. According to the IMB report, 96.3%  of the attacks on the ocean going vessels  happened in the region.

The office of the Naval Intelligence,’’ of the United States, US, shipping threat reports’’,  had reported that there were 97  incidents of Piracy  and armed robbery   at the sea  that had  occurred  in the Gulf of Guinea  region  as at December  2020. Maritime stakeholders told the Value News that the reported Piracy and sea robbery  incidents was a 24%  decline  in the total number of  incidents  from the same period in 2019.  , A source disclosed that the number of kidnappings, and hijacking of ships and other varieties  of vessels  had also decreased  by 16%. He noted that  boardings and attempted boardings to steal valuables  from  ships and Crews were  the most  common types of Criminal activities in the region.

Investigation by The Magazine shows that 51% of the Piracy incidents  and sea robbery  had occurred off the Coast of Nigeria. Although, it shows a decline   compared to the 71% that was recorded 2019, Jamoh, the Director General, NIMASA, was not resting on his  oars but had has continued to face the Pirates and sea robbers squarely that many of the  have been forced to go underground or relocate to Gabon and SaoTome and Principe from where they strike  and return  back to their location.

 There is no gain saying the fact   that in 2020, Pirates and Sea robbers  were said to have  operated off the nine countries in the Gulf of Guinea, which included Nigeria, Benin , Cameroon,Equatorial Guinea,  Coted’Ivoire, Ghana, Gabon, Togo, SaoTome and Princcipe, targeting a variety of vessels including tankers, Container ships, General cargo vessels, fishing vessels,  Passenger vessels, and other numerous vessels supporting oil production.

Hijacked MV.Mozart, Turkish Container Ship, By pirates

The Pirates and sea robbers, may have been succeeding in their attacks on ships because they  use motherships to support their operations up to 200 nautical miles from shore. It is not surprising why they could fire at vessels . Even Dryad Global had said that much , noting that the Pirates generally  kidnap  two  to six high value  Crew  members  in any successful Operation . These are the ship master, Chief Engineer,  and any western Crew member .

The Kidnapped  Crew members are  normally  taken offshore  in the Niger Delta region  where the Pirates demand ransom   payments in exchange  for the safe return  of the Crew members.   The IMO estimates that the annual  cost  of Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea ,  ranges from $565 million to $2billion.

It could be that much  that most  governments  in the region   have been late    to realize  how their absence  in the maritime domain   have not only costs them untold   loss of revenue  but also undermines  security  in land,  as the criminals activities starts on Land and end offshore.  The IMO, officials  may have discovered  war against Piracy  in the region  was only be undertaken by the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari  Administration, using NIMASA,  which had intensified  the anti-Piracy war  in the last 11 months in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea.  

Lim  may have recognised the Nigeria’s effort  to stem Piracy  in its waters and the Gulf of Guinea ,  that he had Commended  Jamoh, the NIMASA, Director General , for his ‘’brave and dynamic approach  to the nation’s  maritime security.  The IMO Secretary General’s Commendation letter to Jamoh , barely a few months in office  appears to encouraged him to do more  to create  awareness and sensitize the general public about the dangers of Piracy and sea robbery in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea which must be stopped at all cost.

Stephen Ubanna

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