NIMASA:Anti -Pracy Law, Pirates Dead End

By Stephen Ubanna

With the termination of the Secure Anchorage Area, SAA, contract  awarded  to the   Ocean Marine  Solutions Limited, OMSL, by the Nigerian Navy described as illegal by  the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, late last December, without providing  an alternative security arrangement in Nigeria water ways,  this appears to have  exposed  Nigeria waters and the Gulf of Guinea to increase Pirate activities. This is evident  going by the number of vessels that had been attacked by  pirates  between December 3, 2019 , and now in the Gulf of Guinea. Some of the  attacked  Oil Tankers and Merchant vessels  were found to be  steaming to Lagos or t left the Coast of Cotonou, Benin Republic, with their cargo.

  Worried by the activities  of pirates in the Gulf Guinea, which has become very embarrassing   to the country,  the Nigerian  Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA,  under the close  which of Dakuku Peterside has  embarked on measures    to ensure  a smooth enforcement of the anti-piracy Law that was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 24, 2019. The bill for the anti-piracy law  was said to have been  initiated by the Agency in 2012 in Collaboration with the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, but that was how far the then Management of the agency could go.

 Peterside, the incumbent  Director General, of the Maritime Regulatory Agency,  was said to have taken advantage of  his close contacts with Rotimi Amaechi,  a former Rivers state governor, and now, minister of Transportation , to facilitate the  approval of the Law  by the National Assembly.

 He has his reason for pushing for the enactment of the anti-piracy law  in order to domesticate the provisions  of the United Nations  Convention  on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS,, 1982 and  the International Convention of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts  against  the Safety Navigation , SUA, 1988 and its protocols. He has his way.

 Investigations by The Value News Magazine shows that ever since the assenting of the bill into Law by  Buhari, last year, the  agency  had been involved in sensitisation  Workshops and   Seminars, to acquaint Judges and the  public about it . This may have   sent a signal to the pirates  operating  within the Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea  that it is no longer going to be business as  usual as anyone caught  in the act would be dealt with according to the Law.   

 The most recent of such  Seminars  on ‘’Suppression  of piracy and other maritime offences, SPOMO, Act. 2019, was  organised at the Nigerian Institute of Legal Studies, NIALS, Lagos.   It was said to have been organised by the Institute in Collaboration with agency. The NIMASA Director General may have taken advantage of the Seminar to appeal   for the Cooperation of  the  Navy and other security agencies  to enforce the Law, stressing  that  ‘’stringent  penalties  await the maritime criminals who contravene  theLaw.

 Giving the importance of the anti-piracy Law,  Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan, the Director General, of NALIS,  has emphasized  the need for the’’  unencumbered  implementation of the Law by the NIMASA’’. This is bad news for the pirates and their Collaborators, who are mostly foreign mercenaries,  who have been harassing  ocean –going vessels and their Crew members in the Gulf of Guinea over the years.

Note that the world over, the Gulf of Guinea  in the West  and Central  African sub-regions  had been regarded as  the  most irate infested area forcing many   Indigenous Shipping Companies had  spent between $4 million  to $6 million to procure a vessel to risk putting on the Nigerian water ways for fear of being attacked by pirates  because of the cost of repairs.

 The International Maritime Bueau, IMB, reports that there were no fewer than  72 attack on vessels  between Cote d’Ivoire  and the Central African country of Cameroon in 2018. The region  was said to have also  recorded 30 pirates  attack on vessels  in 20190 alone.

One of such attacks recorded  in the recent time was that of  an oil tanker, that was said to be  off the Coast of Bonny Island, Rivers state,  on December 3, 2019, The 18 Indian Crew members on board the vessel and  a Turkish were said to have been   kidnapped by the pirates. The vessel and its cargo content, according to security sources,  were not destroyed.

 The Magazine gathered that the seven Crew members left on board  the  vessel  were not harmed by the pirates.  The Hongkong flagged super Oil  anker,  Nave Constellation , which is  capable of  carrying  about  two million barrels  of Crude oil, a  is  operated by the Greek shipping Company , Navios Tanker Management.

The attack on the Greek operated  Nave Constellation  oil Tanker was quickly  followed by the attack on Alpine Penelope, at the pirate infested Gulf of Guinea. The Oil Tanker was found to be  sailing to Lagos  Anchorage area on February 20, 2020 but fail into the waiting hands of the pirates. Dryad Global security Company  which monitored the incident,  reports that the vessel was attacked  76 nautical miles, South West  of Cotonou, Benin Republic by two armed men on board the vessel. The Liberian Flagged Tanker was owned and operated by a Greek Company, OceanGold  Tankers. The question on the lips of most people was: At what point  did the two armed men board the vessel?

Dakuku Peterside : DG, NIMASA

The attack on the oil Tanker came barely after one month that MV Bonita, a Merchant vessel, was said to have been  attacked by pirates in the same  location. . Precisely, the vessel was said to have been attacked on November 3, 2020, off the Coast of Cotonou. Nine Crew members were said to have been kidnapped from the  gypsum carrier. For the oil Tanker  that was  attacked  this February, Dryad, a security firm,  said  nine  out of the 24 , Crew members  on board the vessel  made up of  Georgia. Philipino, and Ukrainia nationals, were kidnapped.

Security watchers believe that the vessel and the Crew members may have been exposed  to the  pirates  attack  as there were no security, Naval patrol vessels  or  ship nearby  to come to their rescue.

 A Maerskline Merchant  vessel,  Maersk Tema, was also  said to have been attacked by the Gulf of Guinea based pirated on February 15, 2020. The vessel which was said to be steaming to Lagos  at some 13 knots speed   was said to have been attacked  around the same location   of the Gulf of the Gulf of Guinea, ,fueling speculations making the rounds that it is an organised crime involving security agencies personnel.

Maritime watchers believe  that the pirates  operating in the Gulf of Guinea axisis  may have shifted away from  seizing  vessels and cargoes  to kidnapping Crew members who can be ramsomed.The Atlantic Discoverer  Container vessel Crew members who were said to have been kidnapped on January 11,2020,  off the Cost of Cotonou,  were aid to have been released  after about 35 days in captivity  by their abductors  while the Crew members abducted in MV Duke on December 5, 2019, were set free after about one month, that the ship owners were able to meet their financial  demand.

     Despite the  worrisome  situation in the Gulf of Guinea in the recent time, Petetrside, the  NIMSA, boss may have given  hope to the industry stakeholders  that there is no cause for alarm   as the agency has put the   necessary machinery in place   to deal decisively with the sea criminals.

 He noted that ‘’ there was now a robust  framework  for the criminalisation  and punishment  of piracy  and other maritime crimes  in Nigeria waters and the Gulf of Guinea’’.  The NIMASA helmsman who could not hide his feelings  had said that ‘’ with the world’s waters  accounting  for over 80 percent  of transportation  requirements in the global  trading supply  chain network  across International routes and trade lanes, threats of piracy ,  armed robbery and other  maritime crimes at sea have become an issue of global concern’’.

This may have informed why the Gulf of Guinea , which had remained the home of pirates, had been  at the epicenter  of maritime discussions  globally, given the incidents that had been recorded in the region over the years. An aggrieved Peterside  lamented   that the ‘’challenge of  maritime insecurity  in the West and Central African subregions  had been compounded over the year   by lack of appropriate laws  to address  the menace. His happiness was that the SPOMO Act  which  had been signed into Law  by the Katsina state born Nigerian President has addressed the challenge in Nigeria.

According to him, the Law aims  to tackle  the menace  of piracy and armed robbery  in the country’s   water  ways  but exclusive of the economic zone  with a strong  and specific  legal instrument  that prescribes  punishment for offenders  .

  Describing  the anti-piracy Act,  is the ‘’first  standalone  law  to fight  crimes  in the Gulf of Guinea region, he disclosed that the   Act  had prescribed  a jail term of  between 15  years and   life  including  fines from 50 million  to N500 million for individuals  and Corporate  Organisations   convicted of maritime offences. This is bad news for the pirates, who  see it as a lucrative business as they have reached the end of the road.

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