Not less than $3 billion is being lost to piracy and sea robbery every year globally, from which robbers' activities on Nigerian waters were major contributors.
This disclosure was made by the Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi, in his remarks at the formal presentation of the draft Piracy and Other Unlawful Acts At Sea Bill to industry stakeholders in Lagos.
Akpobolokemi, who was represented at the occasion by NIMASA Executive Director, Cabotage Service and Labour, Alhaji Ibrahim Zilani, said, it was in a bid to develop a robust legal framework for fighting these incidences on sea, that an international conference on piracy was organised by the agency in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy.
Akpobolokemi said: "One of the resolutions at that conference was to strengthen existing legal framework. This bill is drawn not only from conventions of the IMO that Nigeria is a signatory to, but also provisions of other protocols yet to be conceded to, but important for curbing unlawful acts at sea."
Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, stated that insurance costs for importing goods into the country had greatly increased, owing to Nigeria's classification as a high risk area.
He however expressed optimism that the recent level of attention accorded the menace by the international community and laws like the one being presented would surely drive the menace down tremendously.
Presenting the bill, a legal consultant to NIMASA on the draft bill, Mr. Michael Igbokwe, SAN, explained that there were no laws for the successful prosecution of piracy incidences in the country at the moment.
"The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) since 1988 has been coming out with treaties to suppress unlawful acts at sea. By virtue of Nigeria's membership, the country ratified some of the treaties but not all have been domesticated. If the conventions are not domesticated, they cannot be enforced, so suspects cannot be prosecuted successfully because no local legislations on the crime," he said.
Chairman of the bill presentation forum, Hon. Justice Emmanuel Sanyaolu, while quoting some media reports, hinted that trawler operators had been forced to abandon their businesses as a result of the criminal activities and attacks by some armed robbers on sea, which had led to monumental increase on cost of fish and sea foods in the country at one time or the other.
"These ugly incidences have been said to have put some 250 jobs on the line. The robbers use sophisticated weapons and rob fishing men values worth millions of naira in a single attack.
"The major constraint in fighting this menace is that there is no legislation on the matter. The closest law on it is the British Offences At Sea 1956. NIMASA has taken the bull by the horns by providing a draft bill on this important matter," he said.
With the presentation of the draft bill, other stakeholders who spoke at the occasion, said a significant progress has been recorded in the country's efforts to curb piracy, sea robbery and related offences on the nation's territorial waters.
The bill which draws its strength from the various treaties of IMO already ratified by Nigeria will when passed into law, form regulatory framework for defining piracy and criminal offences at sea, prosecuting and punishing convicted suspects.