The authorities could do more to stem the menace
In a renewed offensive that put to question the recently launched ‘Deep Blue Project’ by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), a vessel was last week attacked in the Gulf of Guinea. Aside injuring two crew members, the gunmen also abducted a crew member, according to the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC), which confirmed the attack. To say the least, this spate of attacks is worrisome as it has given Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea a very negative image in the comity of maritime nations. More disturbing is that it came just a few weeks after the $195 million (about N80 billion) Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari.
What should particularly worry the authorities is that increase of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has always led to higher shipping costs since vessels are now compelled to insure their crew aside paying for higher security costs. “Whilst IMB welcomes reduced piracy and armed robbery activity in the Gulf of Guinea, the risk to seafarers still remains,” said IMB Director, Michael Howlett. He confirmed that the Gulf of Guinea continues to be particularly dangerous for seafarers with 32% of all reported incidents taking place in the region. The region also accounted for all 50 kidnapped crew and the fatality recorded by IMB during the first half of 2021.
The cost of this menace to the country is very high. In 2019, the United Nations Security Council disclosed that Nigeria was losing about $1.5 billion a month due to piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling and fuel supply fraud in the Gulf of Guinea. According to Ambassador Michele J. Sison, the then United States’ Deputy Representative to the UN, the root cause of piracy in the region are ineffective governance structures, weak rule of law, precarious legal frameworks and inadequate naval, coast guard, and maritime law enforcement. “The absence of an effective maritime governance system, in particular, hampers freedom of movement in the region, disrupts trade and economic growth, and facilitates environmental crimes,” she said.
Apart from reducing the number of vessels calling at the nation’s seaports due to the fear of an imminent attack, it has helped in no small measure to increase the cost of doing business in Nigeria as ship owners and the consignees now charge higher than they do for other countries. It has also led to the high cost of freight as ship owners and crew members often demand for high insurance premium before embarking on any voyage to Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. The huge costs are eventually passed off in the cost of freight to the final consumer. Besides, the high number of lives lost to such crime aside, piracy drives fear into shipping practitioners, especially ship captains and master mariner.
While there is unanimity among shipping practitioners that sea piracy cannot be totally eradicated, it is also a fact that with concerted efforts by all the relevant stakeholders, the menace can be minimised. We commend the naval authorities for their efforts, but it is now also obvious that they need to do more if we are to rid our waters of these criminal elements. There is an urgent need for a legal framework that prescribes stiffer sanctions, a more vigorous and vigilant military-led patrol and better intelligence gathering network. We hope the federal government will put in place the necessary measures so that the Nigerian territorial waters will not continue to harbour criminals.