Despite a reduction in maritime crime globally, Nigeria’s waters are largely unsafe due to persistent acts of criminality.

Amaechi• Anxiety over increasing pirate attacks on vessels
Despite a reduction in maritime crime globally, Nigeria’s waters are largely unsafe due to persistent acts of criminality. According to reports from international agencies, the Nigerian area and the entire Gulf of Guinea are still prone to the kidnapping of crews.

Already, the activities of the pirates are impacting negatively on the operations in the maritime sector, with growing anxiety among operators over increasing risk on shipping goods.The revelation came as the Federal Government continues to make commitments towards combating maritime crime in the country.

Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi has assured that Nigeria, as a member of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), would remain committed to upholding the thrust of the organisation in the areas of safety and environmental protection.

The new reports issued by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) show that kidnapping is on the rise in the region with 44 crew members abducted for ransom in 2016 and 24 of the incidents occurring in Nigeria, an increase from 10 incidents recorded in the first half of 2015. The reports show that maritime security incidents, at the global level declined by 24 per cent in the first six months of 2016, compared with the same period in 2015. They also revealed 98 incidents in the first half of 2016, compared with 134 for the same period in 2015.

In the first half of 2016, about 72 vessels were boarded globally, five were hijacked, and a further 12 attempted attacks recorded, while nine ships were fired upon. Besides, 64 crew members were taken hostage onboard, down from 250 in the same period last year.

The Director of IMB, Pottengal Mukundan said: “This drop in world piracy is encouraging news. Two main factors are recent improvements around Indonesia and the continued deterrence of Somali pirates off East Africa.“The ships need to stay vigilant, maintain security and report all attacks, as the threat of piracy remains, particularly off Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea.

“In the Gulf of Guinea, rather than oil tankers being hijacked for their cargo, there is an increasing number of incidents of crew being kidnapped for ransom.”According to IMB, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for seven of the world’s 10 kidnapping incidents, with armed gangs boarding vessels 30 to 120 nautical miles from the shore.

It was gathered that the main target for kidnap is western crew, usually the master and chief engineer, due to the higher ransom that the pirates can demand. West African crew may only fetch several thousand pounds, whilst the criminals hold European crew until a ransom of over $100,000 per man is paid. For example, the three crew members, two Greek and one Pakistani, taken from MT Kalamos last year were only released after a $400,000 ransom payment was made.

The Chairman, Indigenous Ship Owners’ Association of Nigeria, Isaac Jolapamo, blamed the menace on the nation’s economic situation and the lapses of the security agencies.Jolapamo, who is also the Chief Executive Officer, Morlap Shipping Company Limited, described the problem as man-made. “What we are having on the waterways is the fallout of what is happening in the country in terms of armed robbery and kidnapping. These people only moved from land to sea to perpetrate their evil acts. The difference is that they have mastered the water, unlike those ones that are operating on the land. It is like the Navy is not well equipped.

“Besides, they are churning out people that do not have anything to do. Many of the new cadets we are seeing around now are not being engaged legitimately, this is an issue that should be critically looked into,” he said.

“We are now at the mercy of the people that bring our cargoes. It seems that we are not making enough moves to tackle the challenges in the maritime sector and these must be faced headlong,” he said.

Another global risk consultancy firm, Control Risks, noted that “the Gulf of Guinea and Nigerian waters experienced the highest levels of maritime security incidents since before 2008, with high numbers of abductions and attacks continuing across the areas.”

It stated that about 96 per cent of all maritime security incidents globally were related to piracy and armed robbery, showing that the situation remains a key concern in all regions except Europe, where there are no recorded incidents.

In Africa, attacks on tankers were the highest with 30 per cent; local vessels with 20 per cent; oilfield is 19 per cent; cargo is 10 per cent and military vessels constitute five per cent.

Maritime consultant at Control Risks, Sebastian Villyn, said: “This shift in some of the key regions illustrates how quickly patterns of maritime crime can change. In Asia, we have seen an unprecedented decrease in attacks on commercial vessels, driven by enhanced security patrols and a crackdown on crime syndicates onshore.

“However, we have also recorded an increase in maritime abductions in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, in the western Pacific Ocean south of the Philippines. This is a worrisome trend, but does not detract from the overall decrease in security incidents in Asia.”

The Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Dr. Dakuku Peterside, had assured that Nigeria was safe for shipping and other commercial activities in the maritime sector.

Peterside, who said this while addressing multilateral and development agencies on the sidelines of the on-going IMO/MOWCA in Brussels, Belgium also noted that Nigeria was working with both local and international counter-piracy partners to eliminate criminality on its waterways.He said: “We have a close working relationship with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) in order to foster an integrated approach to dealing with the menace. We have also increased surveillance and have deployed world-class maritime domain awareness assets in conjunction with the Nigeria Navy and the Nigeria Ports Authority to monitor our maritime environment.”

He said Nigeria had deployed Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) to patrol and monitor the country’s waterways.At the weekend, suspected sea pirates killed an officer of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Bayelsa State.

Source:The Guardian NigeriaThe Guardian Nigeria