Nigeria: Piracy in Gulf of Guinea - Significant Drop in the Gulf of Guinea Imminent - Peterside

8 January 2020
interview

The issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea which is predominantly Nigerian maritime sphere has been on global radar for a long time now. In this interview with the team of Vanguard Maritime Report, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Commission, NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside, gave details of the strategic initiatives to address the challenges. He also spoke about other key development issues in the Nigeria's maritime economy.

Excerpts

WHAT is the way forward on the maritime security around the Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea?

At the last global maritime conference in Lagos we identified the need to set up an expert group that will follow through with the implementation of the resolutions reached at the conference to address the issues.

One, it became clear to us that the world is looking up to Nigeria to give leadership in addressing the challenge of insecurity specifically pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

Two is that there is need for us to collaborate and partner with each other in the region and with our international partners in addressing the issue of maritime insecurity.

Maritime insecurity

No country can do it alone because you have the open seas which is a common heritage that do not belong to any particular country apart from our various Economic Exclusive Zones where we have jurisdictional authority over and so there is need for partnership and collaboration.

The third thing that became clear to us is that there is need for us to update our various legal framework. Nigeria has taken the lead by being the first country to in West and Central Africa to have a stand-alone legislation that deals with the issue of piracy and other crimes committed at sea.

We also realize that there is need for continuous investment in maritime domain awareness assets and the need for inter-operability of assets, meaning that assets of various jurisdictions need to work with each other so that collectively, we can all walk in the same direction.

We realize that almost all countries in Africa, at least the coastal countries, have one maritime domain asset or the other, but these assets do not speak to each other and that is an issue.

We also realized that we need to continuously build the capacity of our various Navy to enhance their ability to respond to the kind of threats we face in our maritime domain and that our various navies need to work with each other in form of joint operations, joint trainings and joint drills.

And so a number of things came to the fore in the course of the conference including the fact that we have not optimize the opportunities the blue economy offers because African leaders are yet to understand the full import of the blue economy, they are yet to key in to the opportunities that the blue economy offers and they are yet to make the necessary investments in terms of infrastructure, partnership and financial commitments required to engender a blue economy driven eco-system.

These things came to fore at the Conference. So going forward, the things we intend to do is to empanel the expert working group that will follow through with the African Union, the International Maritime Organization, United Nations with ECOWAS, the ECA and other multilateral agencies to ensure full implementation of the resolutions.

The other thing we intend to do is that in the next two years, we will reconvene another Global Maritime Security Conference to look at how far we have progressed with the resolution of the just concluded maritime security conference.

A number of countries have leveraged on the Global Maritime Security Conference already, Friends of Gulf of Guinea, FGoG, set up by the European Union recently met in Accra, Ghana, and speaker after speaker made reference to the Global Maritime Security Conference as a good effort initiated by Africans that need to be supported by the whole world.

Portugal is setting up an Atlantic Defence Centre dedicated to working across the Atlantic North-South and special focus on the Gulf of Guinea on how to address the security challenge in the waters around the world but with special emphasis on the Gulf of Guinea.

They want to look at the various doctrines of the Navy of various jurisdictions; they want to look at the causative factors, the linkage, between the threats in the Gulf of Guinea and shipping in other parts of the world.

That effort is also going on. The most important thing is that the Global Maritime Security Conference has indeed catalyzed a lot of actions in other parts of the world and bringing the attention of the world and the need for everybody to collaborate and deal with the issue of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea.

It became clear that the Gulf of Guinea is critical if we are going to have a continuous flow of energy resource coming from that region. Gulf of Guinea is important as a critical shipping lane, Gulf of Guinea is also strategic in terms of supply of fish stock and fish protein to the whole world. So the world is now focusing on the Gulf of Guinea just because of that singular effort.

The recent International Maritime Bureau report indicated that Nigeria's piracy rating is going down but it is still leading in terms of attacks. Can you explain this?

The true picture is that the IMB said that there has been a significant drop in pirate attacks and maritime crime in the waters of Nigeria and not that there is an increase in the Gulf of Guinea, that the entire Gulf of Guinea remains very high in terms of the number of occurrences and incidents.

If it used to be 70 before, using a hypothetical figure, it has dropped to 50 whereas that 50 is still the highest in the world, that is what the IMB said.

Number of occurrences and incidents

For Nigeria, there is a significant drop, but for the wider Gulf of Guinea region, it is still the most exposed region in terms of piracy and maritime crime in the world, it remains a hot spot.

And if you notice, in recent times we recorded attacks in Togo, off the seas of Lome, we recorded attacks in other parts of Gulf of Guinea but not in Nigeria.

That means that there is something Nigeria is getting right; but Nigeria needs to work with her neighbour to strengthen their own capacity capability to deal with the issue of maritime security.

When will that happen?

We are already working together. We are doing a number of things together; we are doing joint operations; we are integrating our domain awareness intelligence systems; we are talking to each other; there has been enhanced cooperation between the countries of West and Central Africa which constitutes the Gulf of Guinea and you will soon notice a significant drop in the entire Gulf of Guinea region.

What role is the Nigeria's 'Deep Blue' project playing in all these?

The Deep Blue project is a major throng of our solution to the security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea. The Deep Blue project has already enhanced intelligence, we now can see vessels that are of interest, high risk vessels.

We can see vessels that embark on dark activities, vessels involved in suspicious movements, vessels that are indeed involved in illegal ship-to-ship transfers, and all indicators of interest.

So in terms of intelligence, it is enhanced, in intelligence gathering. We are also taking value from the Falcon Eye assets, a maritime domain awareness asset, something that gives us the intelligence that we need.

Maritime security and piracy

But again the Deep Blue project is not yet in its full operational steam, it is still evolving, it is a work in progress. But when fully operational, it will indeed help curtail, if not bring to its barest minimum, the issues of maritime security and piracy within the Nigerian and the wider Gulf of Guinea.

The maritime sector as a contributor to the GDP, to economic development, how do you see that in the next one year?

The maritime sector has been contributing substantially to the Nigerian economy. If you talk about revenue earning within the country, most revenue, apart from the foreign revenue we earn, most revenue comes from Customs collection from our ports. But it is not properly reflected in the statistic outlook of our country.

That is what we are struggling with right now, let contribution of the maritime sector reflect in the statistical presentation of the country. But going forward, we hope to see an enhanced contribution of ocean economy to the GDP of our country in terms of fisheries if we are to eliminate illegal and unregulated fishing in our waters, if we eliminate security threats in our waters of course, there will be enhanced activities in terms of shipping, in terms of Cabotage activities, in terms of oil and gas activities, in terms of aquaculture and energy generation and all the entire gamut of the blue economy, that is where we are headed.

We think that the ocean resources have the potential to contribute enormously to our economy particularly the GDP but it is being under-tapped because of the security challenges we are currently facing and lack of awareness.

On lack of awareness, there has been an improvement. What used to be called sea blindness is no more tenable. People can no longer said to be sea blind, people now know that the sea is a new frontier of wealth generation and economic activities and we are beginning to take advantage of it already.

Beyond the Ministry of Transportation, how do you hope to get other ministries, agencies and departments of government to key into the Blue Economy project?

It is true that the Blue Economy is multi-sectorial, it involves energy generation which under the present arrangement, it is under the ministry of power; it involves fisheries, which is a department under the Ministry of Agriculture; it involves under water mining which for now is still within the purview of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA and the Ministry of Justice.

It also involves seaborne transportation; it is multi-sectorial and so it involves different sectors of the economy.

But what the Nigerian Government has done is to set up a high level committee headed by the Vice President to indeed bring out a policy and a road map to enable our people optimize the benefit of the Blue economy. The Ministry of Transportation is the focal ministry for the Blue economy regime but the office of the Vice President has been saddled with the responsibility of giving us high level leadership in our quest to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Blue economy.

So clearly the country wants to come up with a policy, a road map and indeed make the necessary interventions and investments to create opportunity and help people maximize the opportunities in the Blue economy regime.

What role will NIMASA play in the Blue economy regime?

In the Blue economy regime, NIMASA is the agency with the technical know-how to drive the Blue economy regime. Now, in mainstreaming maritime activities to the economic strategy of the country, we have commenced high level engagement with the relevant offices.

The Ministry of Finance, specifically the Economic Planning Unit of the Ministry and what we are trying to do is to get the planners of our economy to understand the importance of the Blue economy and the maritime sector and mainstream it in planning for our country on short term, medium and long term basis.

It is only when we factor the contribution of the blue economy and plan for it that we can maximize the benefit inherent in the blue economy.

So NIMASA's role is that of awareness creation, providing necessary data and of course the necessary engagement to ensure that they understand the concept and the importance of the blue economy and of course help the country take advantage of the blue economy that is what we are doing.

We have started with an International Maritime Organization, IMO, workshop that brought participants from 18 countries teaching them the need to and the process for mainstreaming maritime sector activities for national plan, including the national budget which is an instrument to drive the optimization of the blue economy agenda.

There has been an outcry by operators on the issue of multiple boarding of vessels by various units of NIMASA, how do you plan to correct this?

Well there are two things here, one is that NIMASA working with other sister agencies has pushed for a harmonized standard procedure for arrest and detention of vessels.

We have also pushed but not finalized a harmonized standard operating procedure for boarding of vessels so that we do not have multiple agencies board vessels at different times.

Sometimes it is one agency with various departments boarding one vessel.

After that agency is done with ten departments boarding a vessel, agency B will come and ten different departments of that same agency will board the vessel.

We have said no to that practice because that is not in sync with the Ease of Doing Business initiative being pushed by government. We have to streamline agencies boarding vessels; we have to streamline inter-agency operability where we have certain agencies board the vessel at a particular time.

If you are going to look out for Cabotage, you look out for the Cabotage things, if you are dealing with safety issues, you look out for safety things, if you are dealing with environmental issues, if you are dealing with the content of the vessel you look out for these things.

So all of that have gotten to advanced stage where we have all the agencies agree on a common standard operating procedure, what is called a harmonized standard operating procedure for boarding vessels.

Standard operating procedure

There are specific instances where there is need for a particular agency if the Customs suspects that if the content you have declared is not what you are carrying as cargo, the Customs can now ask to open that particular cargo for them to examine and do 100 percent physical examination.

There are cases where in NIMASA's Port State Control role, will think that your vessel constitutes a reasonable threat to environment and water and at that point we will examine your vessel and if your cargo is categorized as dangerous cargo, then NIMASA will ask to inspect your cargo and confirm the content and what level of risk it constitutes to the marine environment. So we are working to have a harmonized boarding procedure for vessels.

Beyond that, as government, we have also reduced the number of agencies operating at the ports and the number of agencies that can board vessels.

There has been a 50 percent reduction and that I am sure shippers will acknowledge.

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