LINGERING THREATS IN NIGERIA’S MARITIME ZONE

In a Premium Times report, Nigeria reported 31 actual attempted vessel hijacking cases in 2018, an increase of 87% from the 107 cases that were reported globally in international waters in the first half of the year. Out of the 78 occurrences of international maritime piracy and armed robbery incidents reported to IMB from January to June, Nigeria had 21 incidences of vessel attacks across its waters in 2019. While in 2021, out of the 68 occurrences of international maritime piracy reported, Nigeria had four incidents of vessel attacks across its waters in the first half of the year. 

According to a new report from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), Nigeria had the fewest to no instances of sea robberies and pirate attacks against its ships in the first half of 2022, and while these accounts differ, there is no doubt that there has been a significant decrease in maritime incidents.

The Nigerian Navy’s efforts to combat piracy have been recognized through its kinetic campaigns, the Deep Blue project, and the most recent addition of a Command, Control, Computer Communication, and Information system, dubbed the C4i Centre, in collaboration with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, as well as cooperation with foreign navies for drills and law enforcement off Nigerian waterways.

Several meetings held under the auspices of the Gulf of Guinea maritime coordination forum, Shared Awareness, and DEconfliction (SHADE), have all been cited as essential to the success of the fight against piracy in the area. 

Despite this feat in the Nigerian seas, there have been some maritime warnings and suspicious approaches recorded within the above time frame under review. The Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade in the Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG) on 4 April 2022, reported a boarding occurrence on an MV. Attackers boarded the vessel, destroyed all navigation equipment, and stole personal effects. Authorities were alerted and the Italian navy ship LUIGI RIZZO was escorted to the vessel after an intervention on board. On 7 July 2022, a warning was issued regarding a piracy threat 83NM south-southwest of Bonny in Rivers State. 

But aside from piracy and other occurrences on the high sea, the inland waterways continue to experience pockets of criminality such as kidnapping and theft, but most importantly, boat mishaps. On 6 July 2022 a boat ferrying 17 passengers to Victoria Island, Lagos state capsized, resulting in two fatalities. Yet another boat mishap was recorded on 9 July in Lagos state on a boat conveying passengers from Ibeshe, Mile 2, Lagos state resulting in 14 fatalities. In Niger state, a canoe ferrying over 50 passengers capsized on 23 July 2022. 

Bad weather, over-loading, contempt for safety requirements, and a lack of boat maintenance are all common causes of boat accidents on waterways. Human negligence, on the other hand, plays a critical part in the continuing trend.

Aside from recreation, one of the driving reasons for boat usage is its use as an advantageous alternative to road travelling, with some of the disadvantages of road travel including road defects, accidents, and gridlocks. Despite the transportation benefit, it is nonetheless hampered by the risks associated with the activities of substandard boat operators, who operate vessels that lack seaworthiness yet continue to operate at the expense of passenger safety.

In response to these occurrences, the ministry of justice gazetted a new waterway regulation that stipulates 7 years in prison for jetty owners, boat operators, and passengers who flout water transport regulations in a bid to curb the incessant mishaps occasioned by non-compliance to laid out safety regulations. The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), hitherto the Inland Waterways Department (IWD) of the Federal Ministry of Transport, which was metamorphosed into an Authority vide an act of the National Assembly, CAP 47, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004 (Decree No. 13 of 1997), is mandated with the primary responsibility to enforcing these regulations and the development of Nigeria’s inland waterways for navigation.

Conclusion

The threats persist despite some of the gains made in various anti-piracy initiatives in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. This calls for revisions and improvements of these national and regional counter-piracy strategies and their hubs with deployed capabilities to reduce the socioeconomic opportunities and motivations for piracy. 

Also, the National Inland Waterways Authority should make more active efforts to aggressively sensitize the public in light of the aforementioned. It has been determined that commuters and boat captains both contribute to the high rate of boat accidents; as a result, the agency must live up to its responsibility by effectively enforcing safety standards and other regulatory roles—all geared towards making the waterways safer for public transportation. Because, ensuring such regulations are in place with a great degree of orderliness in the sector, will encourage private institutions to invest in encouraging more growth, making the sector more lucrative and creating more avenues for job creation.

 

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