Nigerian Navy (NN), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and others have stepped up the fight against piracy, writes John Iwori
That piracy has negatively affected international trade, especially shipping is an understatement. In some parts of the world, especially in the horn of Africa near Somali, the fear of pirates has turned out to be the beginning of wisdom as many vessels and their crew have been attacked by the bandits. Several lives have been lost just as millions of dollars have exchanged hands as payment of ransom to the pirates who have turned it into a lucrative business. As a result, many consignees, ship owners, insurance firms, freight forwarders and other stakeholders have increased their tariff whenever they have any business in the piracy prone territorial waters. Piracy, though has many definitions, types, forms and shapes, the most acceptable definition, however, is an illegality, especially stealing from ships and crew in the international waters.
Also, the Advanced Learner's English Dictionary defined piracy as robbery at sea carried out by pirates. It also went further to define pirates as sailors which attack other ships and steal property from them. Whatever the definition, types, forms and shapes, there is unanimity among stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy on the need to tackle piracy no matter what it takes. While they may differ on the methodology, they all are in agreement that no effort should be spared in the fight against piracy. Already, there are efforts at the global and local levels to address the problems of piracy, especially as it affect shipping and safe navigation.
Global maritime watchdog, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has not relented in its efforts to address the menace of piracy in the international waters. IMO, which is a specialised organ of the United Nations (UN) with headquarters in London, United Kingdom, has continued to come up with strategies to address the challenges posed by piracy. Besides setting a day aside to focus on the menace posed by piracy across the globe, IMO has also reviewed some of its instruments to tackle a wide range of maritime issues. These include: safety of life and marine pollution; safe navigation; search and rescue; wreck removal; tonnage measurement; liability and compensation; ship recycling; the training and certification of seafarers. Through one of its key instruments, safety of life at sea (SOLAS), the global watchdog has brought an increased focus on maritime security through the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.
Again, there is an increased focus on air emissions from ships. Apart from IMO, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has also stepped up efforts in its fight against piracy in the international waters.
THISDAY checks revealed that the bureau, a non-profit making organisation, which is a specialised division of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) established in 1981, has over the years acted as a focal point in the fight against all types of maritime crime and malpractices.
IMO, in its resolution A 504 (XII) (5) and (9) adopted on 20 November 1981, has inter alia, urged governments, all interests and organisations to co-operate and exchange information with each other and the IMB with a view to maintaining and developing a co-ordinated action in combating maritime fraud. The IMB has an MoU with the World Customs Organization (WCO) and has observer status with Interpol (ICPO).
Its main task is to protect the integrity of international trade by seeking out fraud and malpractice. For over 25 years, it has used industry knowledge, experience and access to a large number of well-placed contacts around the world to do this: identifying and investigating frauds, spotting new criminal methods and trends, and highlighting other threats to trade.
The information gathered from sources and during investigations is provided to members in the form of timely advice via a number of different communication routes. It lists the threats and explains how members can reduce their vulnerability to them. Over the years, this approach has thwarted many attempted frauds and saved the shipping and trading industry many millions of dollars.
It provides an authentication service for trade finance documentation. It also investigates and reports on a number of other topics, notably documentary credit fraud, charter party fraud, cargo theft, ship deviation and ship finance fraud.
As well as helping to prevent crime, it has also has a duty to educate both the shipping community and a wider audience that comprises just about every entity engaged in trade. To this end, the IMB runs a regular series of courses and training programmes that have a wide-ranging syllabus and many proven benefits. It also offers bespoke consultancy services in areas such as ship and port security.
One of its principal areas of expertise is in the suppression of piracy.
Concerned at the alarming growth in the phenomenon, this led to the creation of the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre in 1992. The Centre is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It maintains a round-the-clock watch on the world's shipping lanes, reporting pirate attacks to local law enforcement and issuing warnings about piracy hotspots to shipping. With its multi-lingual and multi-disciplined staff, experience, unique structure, industry support and well-placed contacts, the IMB can rightly claim to be the world's premier independent crime-fighting watchdog for international trade.
There are also local efforts in tackling the challenges posed by piracy in Nigeria's territorial waters. Nigeria's apex maritime regulatory authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has explored various options before it to tackle piracy. Though it has not succeeded in totally eradicating the menace, it is indubitable that it has gone far in reducing the level of piracy in Nigeria's territorial waters in recent times.
Already, the agency had signed an MoU with the Nigeria Navy (NN), Nigeria Air Force (NAF), amongst other stakeholders, to tackle piracy in Nigeria's territorial waters. The MoU, which was signed during the tenure of erudite Lagos maritime lawyer and pioneer Director-General NIMASA, Mrs. Mfon Usoro, provided specific roles and responsibilities for each partner that signed the MoU.
The deal was borne out of the realisation that officials of the government agency have no statutory powers to handle arms and ammunitions. Usoro, who is presently the Secretary-General of Abuja MoU knew that she could not realise one of the key mandates of the agency, if she did not collaborate with other stakeholders in the implementation of the agency roles and responsibilities as enshrined in the NIMASA Act 2007. Since her exit, the MoU have been modified to take care of certain needs which were not initially envisaged. Already, NN and NIMASA have reiterated their resolve to fight against piracy and oil theft in the country.
Following the development, NN and NIMASA said they would strength their existing MoU on security in Nigeria's territorial waters.
According to them, the move is aimed at putting in place a stronger platform that would permanently stamp out maritime piracy and oil theft in the waters.
The two government organisations stated this in a joint news conference in Lagos last month. The Chief of Defence Staff, Vice Admiral Joseph Ezeoba, who led the top brass of NN to the event told journalists that his visit to NIMASA was informed by the determination to ensure full realisation of a fresh mandate given to NN by President Goodluck Jonathan while appointing him.
He explained that the two government organisations were poised to tackle sea robbery and all forms illegalities in the Nigerian maritime domain.
The Naval Chief added that his visit to NIMASA was to open fresh discussions with the agency to enable NN and the agency synergise to realise Mr. President's mandate in the maritime sector of the economy in his transformation agenda.
According to him, he wanted a redefinition of the NIMASA/Nigerian Navy MoU with a view to strengthen it.
Ezeoba further assured that the outcome of the discussion would bring a lasting safety of navigation in the Nigeria's waters.
Director-General of NIMASA, Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi, said that the agency and NN had started taking a fresh look at the existing MoU between them.
The NIMASA helmsman said the move was aim at ensuring that NN which has the statutory mandate to protect the Nigerian territorial waters, raise the capacity of the Maritime Guard Command (MGC) by providing it with more personnel as well equip it with the necessary military hardware that would boost its ability to respond to any attack from pirates and oil thieves.
He specifically requested the Navy chief to provide the MGC with a patrol boat completely manned by NN personnel. He assured that NIMASA would provide the necessary logistics support for the patrol boat.
According to him, a secured Nigerian water would clean the bad image maritime piracy has given the Nigerian at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), boost trade as well as enhance NIMASA's revenue drive.
However, analysts are of the view that the fight against piracy at global arena must be fully supported by Nigeria through the enactment of the right policies and strict implementation. The analysts stressed that against the backdrop of several policy somersaults in several sectors of the economy, Nigeria should not rest on its oars on the fight against piracy in her waters. She must not only do the right thing but also ensure that the right thing is seen to be done by all those saddle with the responsibility of fight piracy in her waters. Government must do an independent appraisal of what it has put on ground to address the menace of piracy.
As a way forward, government must ask relevant questions and demand the right answers. What are we doing right in the fight against piracy? What are we not doing right and why? In what areas are we doing well? In which areas are we not doing well in the fight against piracy in our waters and why? Is there no room for improvement? Do we have the right personnel and resources to fight piracy in our waters? The people charged with the responsibility of policing our waters, do they have the experience and the exposure? Are there no short, medium and long term measures to boost capacity in the fight against piracy? Cogent answers to these and many more questions need to be provided by the relevant authorities if Nigeria is ready to make a success of the fight against piracy and other illegalities in Nigeria's territorial waters in the months ahead.