This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Pirates Beating a Retreat From Nigeria Waterways

After years of concerted efforts, the international maritime community, including Nigeria, appear to have forced pirates to a retreat, with a 54 percent fall in attacks on ships as at June this year. Francis Ugwoke reports

For a very long time, pirates operating in different parts of the globe have held the world shipping community hostage. It was so bad that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a security agency of the apex world International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had to raise alarm to all maritime nations to take drastic action against the sea robbers. It was one call that the world responded to, including Nigeria and the rest of West African states which early this year were classified as dangerous as Somalia where pirates have made sailing unsafe for shipowners and crew on board.

But in the past few months, apparently because of the global response to tackle piracy, there appears to be a retreat on the part of the hoodlums. This is going by the latest report released by IMB which said that piracy has gone down by about 54 percent in the past six months. And in Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has said that it was determined to put pirates out of business. The promise by the apex maritime regulatory agency is coming at a time that pirates in the Niger Delta have become more daring in their operations.

Global Concern on Piracy

One major threat to international trade is piracy. This explains why IMO has maintained steadfast efforts at addressing the problem. In the beginning, activities of pirates were more in developed countries, including Europe, Straits of Malacca, Singapore and Asia. But pirates in these areas appear to have been taken care of. Now, the focus of attention is in Somalia. This is one country where pirates have held sway for years. And just few days ago, Reuters reported that Somalia's President, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has been shielding a top pirate leader from being arrested.

Reuters had reported that United Nation's investigation showed that a diplomatic passport was issued to the pirate leader, Mohamed Abdi Hassan, also known as "Afweyne, to save him from arrest anywhere in the world. The Somali President had on the other hand defended the government action, explaining that the passport was issued to the pirate leader to induce him to dismantle his piracy network in Somalia and other countries. The UN report was said to have showed that only one pirate was arrested and jailed for only five years in what was described as a contrast to the amount of crime he had committed.

Decline of Piracy Attacks

Although Somalia is seen as the deadliest, reports have it that the activities of the pirates have been declining for some time now, particularly in the past two years. For instance, IMB reported 177 attacks as at June, as against 266 between January and June last year. In Somalia, there were 69 attacks as June as against 163 during the same period last year. This is attributed to global concern and efforts by each maritime nation to address the issue. For instance, it was gathered that the use of private security has helped in addressing the issue. The UN report, according to Reuters had said that because of this development, pirate leaders are abandoning the trade for other businesses.

IMB, according to Reuters said last week that tougher action by international navies and the use of private armed guards on ships have more than halved the number of pirates operating in Somalia waters. The report had it that in good time, the pirates in Somalia made as much as $160m, a development that was said to have cost the world economy about $7bn, a US agency, American One Earth Future foundation, said. The reports had it that most pirates in Somalia are now more interested in kidnap operations within the country for ransom of foreign tourists and aid workers in Northern Kenya and Somalia.

Obstacles to Piracy War

US officials were reported to have said that the "Monitoring Group has submitted two confidential cases to the Security Council documenting the flow of piracy proceeds via international accounts and singling out a Somali businessman with British citizenship who is part of a piracy ring but who also runs a counter-piracy business". And probably because of this, it was reported that "in spite of three international task forces and efforts by a dozen national governments in maritime counter-piracy efforts, serious legal obstacles remain that "impede the prosecution and sanctioning of pirate leaders and kingpins".

The report added, " out of 125 registered hijacking cases since December 2008 which have come under the jurisdiction of 83 different countries, not more than 10 governments have actually embarked on broader investigations into Somali pirate networks"

To address the issue of pirate leaders, the UN Security Council had presented a proposal to designate senior Somali pirate leaders for targeted sanctions. But this was said to have been put on technical hold by some authorities in Britain since 2010.

However, the British Prime Minister David Cameron was reported by Reuters to have set up a task force to look into piracy kidnap for ransom in more detail, including the option of U.N. sanctions. The delay, it was gathered, is said to have discouraged private security companies from sharing certain information piracy.

Nigeria's Efforts Against Piracy

Early this year, Lloyd's Maritime Association, a body of UK shipowners threatened to raise shipping charges on goods coming to Nigeria and other West African countries. The association had fingered Nigeria and other West African countries as second to Somalia ion terms of piracy.

This followed the report that while there were 58 pirates attacks on ships within the nation's coast last year, there were 22 attacks as at February this year on ships trading in Nigeria and Benin Republic. Both the IMB and Lloyd's Maritime Association, a high profile group with Headquarters in London, had considered imposing higher freight rates on goods coming to Nigeria as a result. But the Nigerian authorities moved into action immediately. It was gathered that Nigeria reported 17 cases of pirate attacks so far this year. Although, this is considered high, maritime sources said that the figure could have been higher if concerted efforts were not made to confront pirates who are operating on the nation's coastal waters. About a week ago, the pirates had struck at Bayelsa creeks on the Akassa/Yenagoa sea route. The pirates made away with boats and the engines, including personal efforts found in the boats.

NIMASA's War Against Pirates

As the regulatory agency in the nation's shipping industry, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is saddled with the statutory responsibility of providing security on the nation's coastal waters. The Presidency had recently assigned the task of policing the nation's coastal waters as well as those of some areas in Benin Republic to NIMASA. This was aimed at checking the menace of pirates within the West African sub-region. As a follow-up, the government had approved the engagement of a private security by NIMASA to further address the issue of maritime security. The DG, Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, had in an exclusive interview told THISDAY that NIMASA was battle ready to tackle the issue of pirates in the nation's waters.

He said, " you'll recall that the Lagos waters used to be no-go areas because of the activities of pirates. but since I came, our anti-piracy campaign has been able to reduce the trend with minimal resources.

"And what we've been able to do here is what we want to replicate in all our maritime domain. Remember that we achieved that also on the Benin Republic waters. Based on the request of the government there, President Goodluck Jonathan directed NIMASA to extend its successful anti-piracy operations into the Benin Republic waters"

Similarly, NIMASA's deputy director, Public Relations, Hajia Lami Tumaka said that the apex regulatory agency was committed to ensuring that pirates are put out of business as far as Nigerian coastal waters are concerned. "NIMASA is prepared to create a safe sailing environment for the international shipping community in their voyage to Nigeria" , she said.

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