The Nigeria Navy (NN) has called for the installation and enforcement of special devices on board ships calling in Nigeria's waters.
It posited that if this measure is implemented it will serve as a bulwark against criminalities in Nigerian waters and other parts of the West and Central sub-regions. It averred that if Nigeria adopts more proactive measures against piracy, the menace if not totally eradicated will be drastically reduced.
According to NN, the Federal Government can achieve this by directing the relevant agencies, especially the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), to enforce the measure.
NN made this position in a paper presentation on Measures to Check Piracy and Other Illegal Activities on Nigerian Waters at the sixth Ships and Ports Annual National Essay Competition Prize presentation ceremony in Lagos.
The paper was presented by the Command Intelligence Officer, Commander Usman Bugaje, on behalf of the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Amin Ikioda.
"The Federal Government should lead the pack of coastal states in the Gulf of Guinea region to develop a robust regional maritime security strategy through capacity building, equipment programme, training exercises, intelligence sharing and logistic support to enhance sea patrol and surveillance of territorial waters", the Navy chief said.
He sought the federal government's assistance for the nation's security agencies through capacity building and equipment programme in order to boost their capacity to combat the scourge of criminalities in the waters.
His words: "Greater attention must be made to enhance the capacity of the Nigerian Navy through the acquisition of more functional ships, boats, offshore patrol vessels (OPV), helicopters and back-up facilities to enable them perform their statutory role of hunting down sea pirates and smugglers, including combating other forms of maritime threats in the nation's waters.
"As a matter of urgency, fighting piracy and sea robbery cannot be won by the NN without the support and encouragement of the larger Nigerian society. Consequently, participants at the forum could include legislators, state governors, ministers, other public servants, and members of the armed forces; serving and retired judges, lawyers, industry practitioners, business executives, the academia and the media in order to attract an impressive audience as well as enrich the deliberations at the event.
"Nigeria's water is fast becoming very dangerous in terms of piratical violence against vessels and illegal activities in our waters. The Federal Government must act quickly to combat the scourge of piracy. Piracy is a crime under customary and international law, which affects all countries. It can occur in a state's territorial waters, neighbouring jurisdictions and on the high seas. Thus, it is up to all stakeholders in Nigerian maritime industry to take reasonable steps to protect our maritime domain in order to achieve maximum economic and social gains."
Also presenting a paper, 'How to Check Piracy and Other Illegal Activities on Nigerian Waters', Director-General of the NIMASA, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, represented by the Head, Search and Rescue, NIMASA, Commander Ilyasu Bako (rtd), said "The resurgence of pirate attacks in African waters is now a subject of serious concern to African states and indeed the international community."
Piracy in African waters for the last decade, according to him, is concentrated in three regions namely: the Somali Coast/the Gulf of Aden along the East African Coast, Nigeria's territorial waters in West Africa, and the Mozambique channel/Cape sea route in Southern Africa.
"Since 2007 when African waters overtook waters off Southeast Asia - Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Philippines - as the traditionally dangerous hotspots of global piracy, much of the international attention and efforts at countering piracy in Africa have been on Somali maritime piracy. This is understandably so, because piracy off the Somali coast accounts for more than half of pirate attacks recorded annually in Africa, if not globally.
"For instance, there were 439 piracy attacks worldwide in 2011, more than half of which were attributed to Somali pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and off the coast of Oman. The spike in attacks prompted the deployment in 2008 of an ongoing international coalition of navies to fight Somali piracy. In the same vein, violence at sea is also brewing in another African gulf: the Gulf of Guinea (GG)", he said.
According to him, for much of the past seven to eight years, maritime piracy has been on the increase around Africa despite growing national, regional and international efforts at improving the maritime security along sea routes.
He said: "Based on statistics from the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships Annual Reports, there were a total of 1434 incidents of piracy in Africa between 2003 and 2011. Beginning from 2007, the number of attacks has been on the increase. It jumped from 61 in 2006 to 293 in 2011.
"The reason for this astronomical rise was the outbreak of piracy off the coast of Somalia and Gulf of Aden, and attacks off the coast of GG constitute a fair share of the high incidents of piracy recorded in Africa - the GG accounted for 427 of the 1434 attacks in African waters between 2003 and 2011. The frequency of attacks in the GG, while not as high as those of the Somali coast, is however on the rise.
"The GG pirates are known to be violent, as they usually deploy sophisticated arms and weapons like AK-47s. The traditional modus operandi of pirates operating in the region largely involves the use of speedboats to attack and dispossess shipping crew of cash, cargo and valuable, when the vessel is at anchor or in harbor, but mostly close to shore.
"Though pirates operating within Nigeria cannot qualify to be called pirates going by our earlier definition, these armed robbers are however, increasingly modifying their tactics by hijacking fishing vessels, particularly within Nigerian waters, and using same to attack other vessels operating off the coasts of neighboring countries like Benin and Cameroun. Recent attacks have extended further out at sea and have focused largely on oil-laden vessels, to steal the petroleum product."
On the cost of piracy within the Gulf of Guinea, he noted that the most obvious direct impacts of pirate activities include loss of human lives and valuable property, as well as infliction of bodily injuries and trauma to innocent crews and their families.
He said: "Piracy makes needed trade and investment in the region more risky and expensive. Given the risk involved in transporting goods through the region, insurance premiums have been escalating because shippers factor in higher risks into their operating costs. The International Bargaining Forum (a global labour federation for the transportation industry representing 690 labour unions including 600,000 seafaring members) has noted that from April 2012, the territorial waters of Benin and Nigeria will be designated a high risk area.
"The implication of this is that these waters will be treated the same as the high risk areas in the Gulf of Aden and near Somalia due to increased pirate attacks. It also entails that seafarers have the right to refuse to enter these waters and are entitled to double the daily basic wage and of death and disability compensation while within the areas of risk. This has impacts on the income of regional ports and the cost of goods destined for the region."
He explained that in response to the increasing rate of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, NIMASA has taken steps to strengthen its existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on waterways security with the Nigerian Navy.
He said: "The efforts put in place by NIMASA in combating issue of Piracy and Armed Robbery in our waters has begun to yield results. The numbers of reported piracy attack incidences in Nigerian waters has reduced substantially when compared with previous years. 56 piracy attacks was recorded in 2010, and this increased to 119 in 2011, but since the current NIMASA initiative with the Nigerian Navy and Global West Vessel Specialist Limited started early 2012, the number of recorded incidence till date has dropped to 69.
"Similarly, the extension of sea patrols to the Republic of Benin waters, achieved through bilateral cooperation of the two countries, has led to a reduction of reported piracy incidences and an upsurge in shipping activities in the Republic of Benin waters.
"NIMASA has also concluded plans with the Nigerian Navy to increase the range of its regularly sea patrol to cover most of the Niger Delta. This is expected to significantly reduce piracy and armed robbery attack incidences in these areas. Ultimately, however, a new spirit of inter-governmental cooperation amongst the countries in the GG is needed to effectively stamp out piracy and other maritime crimes within the region.
"The GG states need to evolve an integrated maritime strategy that will comprehensively address the various threats, challenges and opportunities that confront the region. However, there is also the need for attention to move beyond the sea to the land, where the real threats at sea actually originate."