Challenge of combing Niger Delta creeks, Gulf of Guinea with ‘Eagle Eye’
The task of protecting Nigeria’s maritime area, where a large chunk of the country’s revenue comes from, is, no doubt, herculean, as bunkering activities, illegal refining of crude, militancy, sea piracy and others pose a challenge to smooth operation of profitable ventures.
The Nigeria Navy and other security agencies are quite conversant with these challenges, and have, over the years, strived to curb the menace.
When the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin, flagged off the second phase of the 2016 yearly Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) sea inspection codenamed ‘Exercise Eagle Eye’, it was not only to assess the readiness and operational state of the Nigeria Navy (NN) Fleet, it was equally to test the capability of the operational command in the conduct of riverine and choke point regime operations.
Sailing in the big Nigeria Navy Ship (NNS) Centenary, the CDS was shown some of the platforms as well as the capacity of the NN at sea. He inspected some practical exercises, which he commended and expressed satisfaction that personnel have displayed remarkable competence.
It was also intended to showcase their dominance at sea, using available platforms, by carrying out some drills like, firing and Visit, Board, Search and Seize (VBSS), meant to demonstrate how men of the NN enforce the takeover of any vessel at sea, impound and seize the vessel and its contents, if such is conveying contraband good, even if the suspects are armed.
Also firing exercise was carried out at the Agbami oil field, where the CNS, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete Ibas, was also present to see the display of ability to confront objects and carry out successful rescue missions.
The security situation in the Nigeria maritime space has being most precarious, with the restive youth perpetually agitating for one form of compensation/gratification or the other and criminals either toying with critical national assets, stealing crude, illegal refining or piracy at sea.
In the course of the exercise, which held from December 1 to 5, 2016, five militant camps, four illegal refineries and five suspects were arrested and equipment, weapons recovered in Delta and Rivers states. Two other suspects arrested along the cutting channel waterways, while conveying two different badges suspected to containing stolen petroleum substance earlier during first phase of the exercise.
While expressing shock at the relentlessness of the militants and other criminal elements in perpetrating their acts in the Nigerian waters, Rear Admiral Muhammad Garba the Tactical Command/ Commander Task Group 16.3, (OTC/CTG 16.3), planning team Officer recounted the achievements of the exercise, after explaining that the mapping was done covering a sea area of 39,600 square nautical miles and a coast line of 220 nautical miles, extending seawalls to 180 nautical miles, within the targeted coordinates.
“Five suspects arrested and pumping machines recovered in Delta, seven boats destroyed and five militant camps were also raided. At FOB Bonny, four illegal refineries sited at Ijokiri, five boats laden with products suspected to be crude and another boat loaded with drums of illegal Diesel (A G O), 12 tanks loaded with illegal refined A G O and six tanks loaded with products suspected to be crude oil, three pumping machines and two Yamaha outboard engines were recovered, while five suspects were arrested.
“Also, within the first two days of the exercise, four suspected sea robbers were also arrested and weapon reportedly recovered from them, among several other achievements, which included raiding of more militant camps and destruction/impounding of boats, petroleum products suspected to be properties of the criminal suspects at FOB Bonny, Rivers State, while two
Navy ships were on constant patrol on Brass Bayelsa and Rivers entrance to Agip facility in the period.”
Within the first two days of the exercise, Militant camps were raided and destroyed, to which Garba said, “the militant camp raided at FOB (Forward Operation Base) Formoso, was almost like a military base; this is because the equipment found in there were things that can be used not only for tactical operation, but for operational of co-operational reading, this is because the radio sets we recovered there were not just radio sets for listening they could also use it for transmitting.”
Also, the Special Boat Service (SBS) were on hand during the special creek patrol, which was commended by the Commander NNS Soroh Commodore Habib Usman.
During the exercise, which was said to have proved to those who challenged the capacity of the NN and are involved the myriad of insecurity, threats and other criminal activities like piracy, armed robbers at sea, crude oil theft, illegal bunkering, illegal oil refining, kidnapping as well as sabotage/attacks on national Oil and Gas installations by miscreants among others, that they have they capability to deal with the situation.
The deployment was as colourful as it was intimidating, with a total of 13 vessels, 80 Inshore patrol crafts, two helicopters and two private maritime security vessels, this aside the detachment from sister agencies, like the Army, Nigeria Air Force, Marine Police, Customs Service, Immigration, Civil Defence among others.
In giving an assessment of the exercise, which showcased the capacity of the Navy at sea to protect Nigeria interest offshore, Ibas conceded that there were some noticeable lapses in some of the drills, which would be worked on with a view to improve on them, even as he expressed satisfaction at the display of capability by the naval forces at sea.
He said, “this is going to be a continuous exercise, you have seen the need for the Navy to maintain presence at sea, you have seen the Nigerian critical oil and gas infrastructure (Agbami oil field) at sea which need to be protected. We have also used that opportunity of being at sea to evaluate the readiness of the various platforms that took part in the exercise that were conducted and the different demonstrations. “We been able to note what short comings that we have, all these will be put together as we go back to the headquarters to ensure that they are corrected. Assessing the overall exercise, I can say we’ve been able to achieve the main objectives for which the exercise was put in place.”
To assess the operational readiness of the Nigerian Navy fleet and their ability to conduct maritime policing operations, including anti-piracy and riverine operations.