Monrovia — The Commissioner-General of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA), Lenn Eugene Nagbe, says the increase in piracy along the Guinea Gulf poses a serious risk to Liberia and its citizens.
According to him, Liberia remains the second largest registry in the world next to Panamas and as such, the constant attacks and hijacking of ships in the region require serious attention.
He made these comments on Tuesday, July 13, when he appeared as a guest on the OK Morning Rush Show on OK FM 99.5.
Mr. Nagbe pointed out that a vessel flying the Liberian flag was early this week attacked by suspected Iranian operatives.
He, however, fell short to state the name of the vessel and which country it was attacked in.
"We have had at least over 100 pirate attacks. In fact as we were going to Paris-that same day, there was an attack near Accra where pirates again hijacked a Ghanaian flag vessel".
"Just last night a Liberian owned vessel had a problem in South Asia. We had to deal with that and we started an investigation. Two weeks ago, one Liberian flagged vessel was attacked by suspected Iranian operatives; that's still under investigation".
Mr. Nagbe continued: "The fact that we are number two in the world in terms of size means that we are also at risk. So we have to always try to mitigate the risk because, if you fly the Liberian flag on your vessel and there's no protection, what's the use? So we have to engage it with our agent LISCR that has been doing very, very well and we will work with them very closely".
He emphasized that as part of efforts to mitigate the situation, the Maritime office in Virginia, USA is also helping to run the registry and it has been very effective in doing so.
He disclosed that working with its agent LISCR since 1948, Liberia has also taken the lead in the sector.
Commitment to protect the Gulf
Mr. Nagbe was among few government officials who recently travelled along with President George Manneh Weah to attend a gender development conference in Paris, France and hold other engagement meetings.
He noted that though the decision taken by the Liberian leader to have him on the trip was questioned by some Liberians, several meetings were held along with the French President and others in the best interest of Liberia and its people.
"When we were in Paris, France-we had five meetings the meeting with President Macron-one of the key issues was piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The President (Weah) requested the President of France to support Liberia to make sure that there is free maritime traffic because it has an impact on Maritime and trade not just in the West African region, but in the world".
He said most transactions are done through the Gulf of Guinea and as such, it would be more problematic if piracy continues to escalate in the region.
He pointed out that the government of France has committed to sending support towards providing guidance at the Gulf in addition to the Italian government and the Liberian Coast Guard's efforts to guarantee the freedom of ships movement in the area.
Speaking further, Mr. Nagbe described the LiMA as one of the best performing public entities in Liberia.
He pointed out that prior to his takeover at the entity; the Authority was not in the dungeon.
Mr. Nagbe disclosed that he received a direct mandate from President George Manneh Weah to make the institution better by ensuring the completion of the entity's headquarters and the employment of more Liberians, among others.
He added that the construction of the LiMA offices commenced on a piece of land outside Monrovia during the stewardship of his predecessor, Dr. James Kollie.
He noted that though a lot of works had already been done on the structure prior to taking over, he focused on the completion of the project shortly after he took office.
"We had a contract with our previous landlord that every year in April we should renew the lease agreement. We worked very hard of October 2020 to the beginning of April 2021 so we can move to our headquarters because the President has insisted that we were the oldest registry and we can't be moving from place to place paying money".
Mr. Nagbe maintained that he prioritized the completion of the headquarters project and "jumped on the backs of the contractors" to ensure the full completion to save some money for the government.
He added that some changes were made on the previous structure and the first phase was completed, adding that, it does not augur well for Liberia as the second largest registry in the world to still be leasing property from others to house the LiMA.
"We moved into the building that was not completed even though our landlord didn't like it. We broke the lease agreement".
Mr. Nagbe noted that the Liberian Chief Executive also requested for the expansion of the Liberia Maritime Institute to guarantee the intake of more students-a move that will be actualized by LISCR for the training of more Liberians into the sector.
According to him, several Liberians are currently training at the Regional Maritime University (RMU) in Accra, Ghana, while recruitment is ongoing for the second batch of training here at the Liberia Maritime Institute (LMI).
He expressed willingness to also increase the number of students to do their Masters at the RMU.
Mr. Nagbe indicated that efforts are being applied by the LiMA to increase the number of seafarers in the country.
He noted that the Authority remains more aggressive to expand the registry to move from number two to the best in the world.
"We run the registry as a business because we want to make more profit. The profits that we make from the registry, we remit to the government consolidate account that forms part of the national budget. So, we have a very critical role to play. We are very happy that we have a very strong team of professionals at the Liberia Maritime Authority who are working very hard. We are getting there bit by bit".
He noted that the size of the country's registry of ships has also significantly increased under his administration.
Mr. Nagbe, however, fell short of stating the exact number of ships flagging the Liberian flag, but pointed out that, "the number grows every day and just two weeks ago we had about ten new entries into our program".
According to him, the ratio between the number of ships flagging Liberian flags and Liberian seafarers remain huge, a situation that is compelling more Philipinos to acquire jobs in the sector over Liberians.
"My main focus is to ensure that we have trained Liberians who are willing and ready to get on ships. It is an area of great potential for job creation but, we have to have the aptitude to work to do it".