SECURITY OF THE NIGERIAN MARITIME DOMAIN – ISSUES AND OPTIONS

The global maritime commons have remained a veritable medium for driving growth, development and prosperity amongst both littoral and land-linked nations in the Twenty-First Century. African seaborne trade has equally benefited from this growth albeit with attendant maritime security challenges, particularly within the Gulf of Guinea. Suffice to state that emerging security occurrences within the Nigerian Maritime domain stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities. Their manifestations include attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft. There are also various forms of illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution. As the lead agency responsible for security in the vast maritime environment, the Nigerian (NN) has initiated various programmes and operations geared towards creating a safe and secure maritime space for commerce to thrive.

Permit me at this juncture to state that Nigeria, with a coastline of
about 420nm, lays claim to 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in line with United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We have also initiated the process of claiming a 350nm extended continental shelf, within the GoG. This maritime space has tremendous economic potentials due to its rich hydrocarbon deposits, fishery resources, and several port facilities which if well harnessed are capable of improving the livelihood of our population. However, despite the aforementioned prospects, the frequent abuse by diverse interests across the vast maritime domain has continued to buoy our concerns. More disturbing is the fact that many of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic life line of the nation, with negative impact on development and the well being of our citizens. Considering the wide expanse of the nation’s maritime domain with over 3,000 creeks and the frequent mutation and transnational nature of maritime crimes, the NN has had to initiate various independent operations and collaborative efforts with relevant stakeholders to curb the menace. I am therefore pleased to join this important discussion on: Security of the Nigerian Maritime Domain- Issues and Options.

As mentioned earlier, most of the issues involved in the security of Nigeria’s maritime domain stem from non-military causes which usually manifest in the form of sea robbery or piracy, economic crimes and theft of hydrocarbon resources as well as other transnational organized crimes. In the last 2 decades, piracy and sea robbery within the GoG have become a major point of discussion with the region ranked as one of the most troubled waterways. It is estimated that the annual cost of piracy to the GoG region is over USD 2 billion.

Another major issue affecting the security of the maritime domain is the poor socio-economic conditions of the people of the Niger Delta region. The region like most other parts of Africa is plagued with some level of poverty, inadequate social infrastructure especially as it relates to health, education and transport, as well as youth unemployment, among others. This makes the youth vulnerable to crimes, as they are readily available to be used as tools, by powerful maritime crime syndicates to perpetrate all forms of criminalities including oil and gas pipeline vandalism, piracy/sea robbery on merchant shipping as well as operation of illegal crude oil refineries. The economic conditions of the people of the Niger Delta region therefore portends a critical issue in the discourse of the security of Nigeria’s maritime domain and, needs to be addressed expeditiously.
Having apprised you some of the basic issues contending the peaceful use of Nigeria’s maritime environment, let me share with this respected audience, the efforts of the NN at emplacing a viable domain for maritime business to thrive. I would begin by first highlighting some NN independent operational engagements established to check criminality at sea. Two of these operations include Operation TSARE TEKU an anti-piracy operation and Operation RIVER SWEEP which is an anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) and anti-Illegal refining operation. I am glad to inform that since the activation of the anti-piracy operation 3 years ago, there has been a successive decline in reported cases of piracy/sea robbery attacks within Nigeria’s maritime domain. The operation has also contributed to significant improvement in shipping into Nigeria’s maritime environment as attested to by the Nigerian Shippers Council. The anti-COT and illegal refining operations also incorporates the Choke Point Management and Control Regime involving the deployment of armed personnel in houseboats designated at strategic chokepoints within the creeks to prevent any stolen crude from being taken away in ships or barges to mother vessels at sea. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has attested to the successes of Operation RIVER SWEEP, confirming huge savings for the nation due to massive reductions in pipeline product losses between 2015 and 2018.

Apart from these 2 specifically designed operations, which are accentuated by the Choke Point Regime, the NN continues to conduct policing patrols across the nation’s EEZ and territorial waters employing the advantage of its maritime situational awareness infrastructure to coordinate and direct the pattern of patrols. The Service is thus able to conduct round the clock surveillance of our maritime space using Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) facilities in addition to surface vessels and helicopters to ensure effective electronic tracking of vessels within our maritime environment whether fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) or not. The systems also serve as force multipliers, as NN patrols are more mission oriented with attendant reduction in operational logistics cost. Following the historic tracking and arrest of the hijackers of a tanker MT MAXIMUS by the NN at the fringes of Sao Tome and Principe in 2016, the Service has continued to achieve several successes using the MDA systems. For instance, in 2019 alone the MDA Systems were used to vector NN platforms to arrest over 25 vessels for suspicion of committing various infractions within Nigerian waters.

To further enhance NN surveillance and MDA network, the Service recently signed an MoU on white shipping with the Indian Navy and has recently been endorsed to join the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in addition to the Italian based Trans-Regional Maritime Network, which she joined in 2015. These strategic partnerships have the potential to further enhance the NN’s capacity to engage with other major maritime nations particularly in areas of information sharing and relevant advisories to check criminality across the Mediterranean sea as well as the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, with positive impact on NN maritime policing duties.

To enhance maritime operations, the NN also engages regularly with various stakeholders. In particular, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety
Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Customs, Immigration and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency have been most supportive in this regard. These engagements foster a shared vision on the accomplishment of maritime security to bolster common efforts to emplace a more conducive environment for shipping and other maritime activities. One positive outcome of such consultation is the launch of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures (HSOP) on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons (HSOP AD&P) in Nigeria’s Maritime Environment in January 2017. Further to the launch of the HSOP, the NN constantly engages directly with each agency on modalities for implementation, thus creating the desired synergy, resulting in arrest of over 130 vessels within the past 2 years.

The HSOP was further boosted as a legal instrument for the prosecution of maritime crimes in Nigeria by Mr President’s recent assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill of 2019. Pertinently, the Act would serve as strategic deterrent to the commission of various criminalities within the nation’s maritime environment and curtail the excesses of syndicates that continue to profit from sponsoring acts of piracy within the GoG. The Act also demonstrates the government’s resolve to enforce maritime law within the region towards changing global negative perception of the GoG as a haven for insecurity. However, considering the transnational and migratory nature of these maritime crimes there is the need for even greater international collaboration to boost maritime law enforcement.

At this juncture, I must recognise the centrality of collaboration with other maritime nations and international maritime agencies in order to achieve successful maritime security operations. To this end, I am glad to mention that the NN has equally shown commitment to strengthening international collaboration towards improving maritime security in the GoG. In line with the intention to collectively address maritime security challenges in the global commons, the NN has supported regional efforts towards collective maritime security. Following the 2013 Yaoundé Declaration which adopted an inter-regional Code of Conduct for inter-navy cooperation between Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) States, the NN in concert with other regional navies has instituted measures to check migratory crimes. Accordingly, the navies of ECOWAS Zone E made up of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and the Gendarmerie of Niger Republic recently endorsed an MoU for combined patrol of their common maritime domain. There has also been increased collaboration between the NN and navies from other partner nations to boost synergy in addressing illegalities within the GoG.

May I also point out that despite a harsh fiscal environment at home, the Nigerian Government has remained committed to enhancing the response capability of the NN through the acquisition of more patrol vessels and aircraft. Noteworthy is the on-going fleet expansion programme which has led to addition of several OPVs, Seaward Defence Boats, induction of over 250 Inshore Patrol Boats including the strengthening of the NN air bases. The fleet recapitalization effort has enabled the NN to extend reach in support of regional effort to secure the common seas while enabling the Service better attend to her domestic policing roles. The modest attainment by these acquisitions clearly suggests that more ships with prolonged endurance such as OPVs are needed for sustained presence at sea and the protection of critical assets in the deep offshore areas. Going forward, the NN intends to leverage such audience as today’s, to strengthen discussions with international partners regarding a sustainable collaboration to collectively meet these needs.

Though the NN has in recent years renewed her fleet with new acquisitions, the fact still remains that the ships are not enough to maintain continuous presence as required to dominate the maritime space of interest. This inadequacy has resulted in information gaps making it difficult to acquire a holistic picture of the environment needed to share with relevant users. As part of effort to overcome this challenge, the NN has resorted to local ship building efforts to increase the size of her fleet. Some of the indigenous built vessels are shown on the screen. Other countries within the sub region could key into the NN’s ship building effort to expand their fleet in order to move at a common and consistent pace within the sub-region. Plans are also at advanced stages to introduce Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)/Drones thereby further enhancing operational capability.

As earlier mentioned, I am glad to reiterate that recent International Maritime Bureau report reveals a progressive decline in the number of piracy attacks. Even at that, most of these attacks were not successful. The decline in successful attacks is as a result of NN intensified efforts at securing Nigeria’s maritime environment. Notwithstanding, the fact that successful piracy attacks occasionally occur in Nigerian waters and indeed the GoG calls for more proactive actions by the NN and stakeholders in order to rid Nigeria’s maritime environment of all forms of criminalities so that its full potentials could be realized. Let me also seize this opportunity to advice seafarers and ship owners to adopt pragmatic measures to improve their individual safety and security at sea through evasive manoeuvres, increase of speed, use of citadels as well as use of Safe Anchorage Areas (SAA) and convoy protection, where available.
On a final note, once again, may I express my profound gratitude to the organisers of this Summit and this respectable audience, for granting me an opportunity to share thoughts on behalf of my boss Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas the CNS Nigerian Navy regarding efforts at addressing insecurity within Nigeria’s maritime domain. While once again reiterating the commitment of the NN to emplacing a secure maritime environment for the prosperity of Nigeria and indeed the GoG and global commons in general, we continue to count on your collective support to attain our desired objectives. I wish you all a fruitful, exciting and rewarding deliberation. Thank you most sincerely. As we say back home in the Nigerian Navy “Onward Together” and God Bless.

Abridged remarks of the Chief of the Naval Staff, Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas at the West African Shipping Summit Held during the London International Shipping Week on 10 Sep 19. The remarks were delivered on behalf of the CNS by the Chief of Policy and Plans Naval Headquarters, Rear Admiral Begroy Ibe-Enwo.

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