NIMASA: Reinventing war against piracy with Deep Blue Project
With the recent launch of the Deep Blue Project otherwise called the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, Nigeria appears to be more prepared to wage war against piracy and other related maritime crimes on the nation’s territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
The project, which was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari in Lagos, aims at addressing decades of piracy and other maritime crimes, which had been giving the country a bad image. Aside from that, these crimes had also led to Nigerian shippers being surcharged by multinational shipping lines bringing goods into the country.
In international trade what determines the cost of shipment is the level of peace in the country and continent involved in every transaction. If conference liners decide to take the risk to ship goods to a country under security challenges, the shippers must be ready to bear the cost. The liners are big time multinational shipowners involved in affreightment to any part of the continent. For countries under war or high security risk, shipowners impose war risk surcharge, which could be triple of what should be the normal charge.
Nigeria is one of the countries where war risk surcharge is imposed on shippers for close to a decade now. The reason is the security menace on the nation’s territorial waters in the name of armed robbery and piracy. The liners are first confronted by the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) piracy before arriving the Nigerian waters where they do not feel completely safe for the same issue. The pirates’ attack was at a stage an embarrassment to the country as the liners took a decision to have a contingent of armed guards on board ships during voyage to Nigeria for security reasons. In doing so, they passed the cost to the Nigerian shippers who also passed the cost to the final consumers of trade goods.
A Nigerian security outfit, Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL), had taken advantage of this issue to offer security services to ships bringing goods to the country. The firm had enjoyed immense patronage from the multinational shipping agencies, charging as much as $2,000 for the first day and $1,500 subsequently daily to provide security for every vessel until the issue became a subject of controversy leading to the cancellation of the security contract.
President Muhammadu Buhari had cancelled the contract after a recommendation by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. The argument by Amaechi was that there is nowhere in the world where a private individual company is given such task of securing or protecting the nation’s territorial waters. Buhari had, while cancelling the contract, directed that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) should be saddled with such responsibility.
At the launch of the Deep Blue Project, which is being executed by NIMASA, President Buhari had expressed hope that it would address maritime crimes, including kidnap for ransom by pirates.
Buhari said: “I am confident that the project, which provides a robust maritime security architecture, will enhance maritime domain awareness capability and improve law enforcement action, particularly in the prosecution of suspects under the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act which I signed into law in June 2019.
“This Flag-off is an important step in the continuing shift in strategic action about regional maritime security. It will serve as a benchmark for member states in the Gulf of Guinea and other relevant stakeholders to further develop innovative strategies and align efforts with the subsisting framework to improve maritime security in the region.
“With shipping accounting for over 80 per cent of transport requirements of the global economy, concerted efforts and innovative actions are required to address attendant security challenges. Therefore, the flag-off of the project marks an important milestone in this regard and in our collective effort to tackle security challenges in the form of piracy and other maritime crimes in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. It is also a demonstration of government’s strong commitment to ensuring security. This intervention, no doubt, will facilitate a conducive environment for the maritime sector to thrive and contribute to the diversification of the Nigerian economy.”
The assets for the Deep Blue project, as identified during the launch, were two Special Mission Aircrafts for surveillance of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), three Special Mission Helicopters for search and rescue and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
The sea assets included two Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats. Other infrastructure were the Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence Centre (C4i) for intelligence gathering and data collection for land operations; 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol and about 600 specially trained troops for interdiction, known as Maritime Security Unit. Two vessels for the operation were named as Deep Blue Abuja (DB-Abuja) and Deep Blue Lagos (DB-Lagos).
To many industry experts, the project reinforces the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences SPOMO Bill 2019 signed into law by President Buhari two years ago, which was also targeted at checking piracy in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea.
According to the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, the new security approach was being adopted to tackle security challenges encumbering the shipping business in the country.
“We are deploying high-tech assets under the Deep Blue Project to not only deal with piracy and armed robbery in our territorial waters frontally, but also respond to the increasing sophistication of these maritime crimes.
“The Nigerian Navy and NIMASA are partnering to ensure a high level of security in our waters. We are tying up all loose ends and very soon everything would become manifest and clear to stakeholders and operators,” he said.
Jamoh, who spoke in response to security concerns raised by the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN) following the cancellation of the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) contract by President Buhari and the transfer of the responsibility for the area’s protection to NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy, said there was no security vacuum in Nigerian waters.
“I can assure you that there is no security vacuum in our waters. From what I know, the SAA is more protected than ever before. The Nigerian Navy has recently deployed 14 warships to enhance security in the area and the wider maritime domain. Other assets, including Special Mission Vessels, interceptor boats and Special Mission Aircraft, are also being deployed under the Deep Blue Project.
“Besides, there is an emergency mobile line for any vessel in distress in our waters, +2348030685167, and the NIMASA emergency response room can be reached on Channel 16 of the Very High Frequency (VHF) radio channel,” Jamoh said, adding:
“The menace of maritime insecurity is an age-long challenge in the industry and government is doing its best within the available resources to address the issues, with continuous patrols by dedicated vessels to the Secure Anchorage Area. We appeal for a healthy working relationship and further deliberations are welcome.”
He disclosed that NIMASA was networking with international bodies such as INTERTANKO and INTERCARGO to ensure security in the Gulf of Guinea, with the Yaoundé-based International Coordination Centre (ICC) also playing a central role.
Jamoh urged stakeholders to always contact the Command, Control, Computer Communication and intelligence (C4i) centre located at the NIMASA-owned Nigerian Maritime Resource Development Centre (NMRDC), Kirikiri, Lagos, for necessary actions under the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act.
During the graduation ceremony of officers trained to crew the Special Mission Vessels, the main maritime component of the project, recently, Jamoh reiterated that assets deployed under the project were manned by proficient officers from the Nigerian security services.
The Director General, who was represented by the agency’s Executive Director, Operations, Mr. Shehu Ahmed, said the graduation of 30 officers trained in various parts of the globe marked a significant addition to the team of competent personnel manning assets under the maritime security scheme.
His words: “This event is remarkable. It guarantees us competent manpower required to man the Special Mission Vessels. It is a further indication of our commitment to bequeathing a crime free maritime domain to Nigerians and the global maritime community.
“Early in the year and in line with a Presidential directive, we deployed the Special Mission Vessels and the Fast Interceptor Boats to the Lagos Port Secure Anchorage Area. But the event of today takes us further to the full deployment of the two Special Mission Vessels with fully trained and certified crew.”
Appraising the efforts of the government in tackling the problem of piracy, the Chairman of Shipowners Forum, Mrs. Margreth Orakwusi, said it was a good development that all hands were on deck to address the issue in Nigeria.
Noting that piracy was a global issue, she said it was good that there was cooperation between the Federal Ministry of Transportation through NIMASA and the military on the war against piracy.
She said: “That’s what we have been advocating for, that agencies should come together to arrest whatever situation we are facing and in this project.
“Some pirates have been convicted under the SPOMO Act; though coming late it cheers us up and gives us that confidence that we can now go back to the sea with full force. Remember this problem has been there for many years. So, we need to appreciate the efforts made so far and encourage them and as stakeholders, we should contribute our quota and be able to advise them when things are not working.”
Orakwusi stated that traditional rulers in the riverine areas where pirates take off from should provide the right intelligence that would lead to their apprehension.
“The traditional rulers should wake up to their responsibilities and help this nation to succeed in the deep blue project,” she added.
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