Abuja — The House of Representatives yesterday took a significant step towards stopping an annual loss of about N7 trillion to insecurity on the nation's territorial waters.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who expressed concern over the situation, said there was an urgent need to pass laws that would address the insecurity in the maritime sector.
Dogara, represented by the House Deputy Minority Leader, Mr. Chukwuka Onyema Wifred, spoke during a public hearing on a Bill for an Act to Amend the Maritime Operations Coordinating Board Act, Cap M4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, among others.
Citing 2012 reports of the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme of attacks on 1000 seafarers in the West African sub-region, Dogara said between January and March 2016, there were several attacks off Nigeria's coast involving pirates stealing cargoes of crude oil and petroleum products.
"Reports had it that no fewer than 44 ship crew members were abducted. In the first half of this year, about 20 commercial vessels were attacked on Nigerian waters. The increasing level of attacks and violence on the Gulf of Guinea have given Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region very damaging and negative image, in addition to an estimated monthly loss of $1.5 billion to the country.
"As I said recently, prevalence of insecurity on our waters resulted in the loss of $1.3 billion annually to Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in West Africa alone yearly. We must tighten the legal and regulatory framework to stop these losses. The only way to promote intra-African trade on our waterways is to ensure safety and security of navigation.
"What is disturbing is that pirate attacks in West Africa are said to be occurring on our territorial waters, terminals and harbours and not on the high seas which effectively stopped intervention by international naval forces," Dogara said.
According to him, the onus is on the Nigerian Navy to stem the tide and secure our territorial waters, in cooperation with other agencies of government.Calling for enabling laws that stipulate stiff penalties and adequate funding for the protection of the nation's waterways, the speaker said the creation of the Maritime Security Fund would go a long way in providing the much-needed money to empower the Nigeria Navy (NN) with sub-regional responsibility to patrol the Joint Development Zone between Sao Tome and Principe and Nigeria, and the Gulf of Guinea to discharge its responsibility effectively.
The speaker enjoined the committee to ensure that the proposed Maritime Security Fund meets the test of both local and international laws since there are issues relating to merchant shipping and security which are internationally controlled under the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral I.E Ibas acknowledged that Nigeria's national interests in the maritime environment are being threatened by the activities of pirates, armed robbery at sea, crude oil theft and illegal bunkering, poaching, smuggling, vandalism, kidnapping, proliferation of small arms, waste dumping and oil pollution.
Warning that the reign of insecurity in the maritime domain could lead to grave implications on the wellbeing of the country, he said going by the report of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria loses $6.70 billion annually as against the income of $67.18 billion within a five-year period of 2012 to 2016.
The report, he said did not factor in such incidentals as loss of employment, collapse of local businesses and disincentives to investments, and the estimated annual loss of $1 billion due to illegal fishing, and an average yearly cost of $3.65 billion to crude oil theft.
The naval chief stressed the need to secure the Agbami, Bonga, Amena-kpono, Engina, EA and ESAN oil installations which produce 330.325,000 barrels of crude oil worth $18,167,875,000.00 yearly at the cost of $55 per barrel.
Ibas, who decried poor budgetary provision for his outfit over the years, said the navy required just a little fraction of the amount lost to insecurity to enhance its operations and block leakages. He put the estimated cost of acquiring new ships comprising general purpose frigate, long endurance offshore patrol vessel, media endurance OPV, landing platform dock, landing ship tank, submarine, seaward defence boat, and naval helicopter for the NN at $1.3 billion.
However, the Director General of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Dakuku Peterside faulted the move to establish the maritime security fund, saying it would amount to a duplication of the duties of his agency.
Represented by a director in the agency, Mr. Ali Ndabawa, he disclosed that NIMASA had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the navy to secure the waterways.