In a bid to deepen its strategy for fighting piracy, oil theft and other criminal activities in the nation's waters, the federal government is to begin impounding vessels that enter Nigeria's territorial waters without prior notification to the respective government agencies in line with extant laws.
This is coming on the heels of incessant reports of pirates attacks on ships on Nigerian waters, most of whom have been discovered to have entered the country illegally for criminal activities.
The senior special assistant to the president on maritime matters, Olugbenga Leke Oyewole, made the disclosure yesterday, on the sidelines of a sendoff for 655 qualified student cadets organised by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The presidential adviser told journalists that the federal government was making arrangements to ensure that vessels no longer loiter on the local water. Rather they were taking measures to observe immediate anchorage.
"If a ship is coming to Nigeria, there is no point loitering on the waters, but should come to the anchorage which is being secured by the Nigerian Navy.
"The fight against piracy is beyond shooting guns," he said.
According to Oyewole, Nigeria has been having a sustained piracy records on tanker ships and none on cargo ships, pointing out that most of the affected tankers were not even captured in the list of ships that reported their arrival into the Nigerian waters in order to perpetrate oil theft and other criminal activities.
He said, "Piracy do not happen to cargo ships in Nigeria; it's been happening to tanker ships. It is either the mother ship that wants to evade payments to the Nigerian government that loiter in the water to avoid being captured by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) or NIMASA, or somebody is trying to steal oil. Those are the two classes of people to which these attacks happen. What we need to do is ensure all mother vessels coming to Nigeria reports at a particular place, which is the anchorage. We only need NPA and NIMASA to ensure all ships coming to Nigeria are being captured, if not we get the customs after them.
"It's in the Customs Excise Duties and Management Act (CEMA) law that if a ship comes to the country without report, it's an illegal ship. We reserve the right to impound such ships. By the time we impound one or more ships, we are talking about equipment worth $50 million dollars. Then nobody anywhere in the world will risk that anymore."
He noted that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) presently has a limited presence offshore but are now acquiring capacity to begin to go offshore to enforce the new regime of impounding non compliant vessels.
He said government was making sure there was synergy among all the government agencies that has a responsibility to carry out a duty on ships entering the country. These include NIMASA, Customs, NPA, and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS)
"We need to ensure there is synergy to ensure they do what is needed on every vessel that enters the country. The need for a forum for them to discuss is what is important. There is need to have a total surveillance of our maritime space, where all of them can begin to analyse and address issues. These are the only areas where we need to tidy up; Government is doing very well about that," he said.