Nigeria: Despite NIMASA’s Claim, Pirate Attacks Still Growing

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Arguably, the Nigerian Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) may have been economical with the truth when the agency claimed that reports of pirate attacks in the country are exaggerated.

It appears NIMASA is not yet aware that graft, weak law enforcement and poverty are the main lubricants of piracy, according to Dr. Christian Bueger, a Cardiff University researcher and editor of Piracy-Studies.org, an online research portal. In an interview with Africa Renewal, Bueger said, “Piracy tends to be conducted or supported by marginalised communities that have not been participating in economic development.” 

This appears to be the case for Nigeria where the majority of the recent African pirate attacks have occurred, driven mainly by corruption in the oil sector. Chatham House, a British research group, reported in September 2013 that “corruption and fraud are rampant in the country’s oil sector,” and “lines between legal and illegal supplies of Nigerian oil can be blurry.” In such a climate pirates have an incentive to steal oil, since they know that they will be able to sell it on the black market.  

In Africa, while piracy in Somalia’s Gulf of Aden is currently on the decline, it has spread to West Africa, where most attacks in the region are taking place in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, the home region of Dakuku Peterside, NIMASA’s Director-General. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), there have also been attacks in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Togo, among others. 

The UN Security Council is yet to call for concerted international action against piracy along the Gulf of Guinea, as it did in the Somali case when, in June 2008, it authorised other countries to enter Somali territorial waters to stop pirates.

In 2011 the council passed two resolutions expressing its concern about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and urging states to reinforce domestic legislation, develop a comprehensive regional counter-piracy framework, issue appropriate guidance to shipping and cooperate in prosecuting pirates and their backers. 

Despite the absence of any Security Council action so far, and unlike in the Gulf of Aden, in West Africa there is already an institutional infrastructure to combat piracy. The Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) has in its treaty of 1993 a maritime component intended to harmonise all maritime issues across the region; the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa, established in the 1970s, holds member countries to a similar agreement. 

Last year ECOWAS, the Gulf of Guinea Commission and the Economic Community of Central African States signed a memorandum of understanding between the International Maritime Organisation and the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa, to establish a sub-regional integrated coast guard network in West and Central Africa, among other things. 

Records show that despite these regional actions, the number of pirate attacks continues to increase. The International Maritime Bureau, a specialised division of the International Chamber of Commerce, reports that while pirate attacks (actual and attempted) in the Gulf of Guinea fell from 54 in 2008 to 37 in 2010, there has been a steady increase since then: 49 in 2011 and 58 in 2012. As of August 2013, there were 28 attacks in Nigeria alone. These numbers, however, might be deceptive because many attacks go unreported.  

Piracy cost the world over $1.00 billion in 2015, according to the latest State of Maritime Piracy report. Just last year, thousands of people were attacked, and hundreds of them were held hostage — many for a hefty ransom.

To help the US Navy, shipping companies, and law enforcement agencies keep their vessels safe around the globe, international mapping companyESRI built a technology called ArcGIS that can predict pirate attacks.

Nigeria occupies the number one position in the number of recorded attacks against vessels. Similarly, a recent report released by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs revealed that maritime criminality in Nigerian waters, including piracy and crew kidnap for ransom has been on the increase in recent years “and law enforcement efforts have been limited or ineffectual.”

The 2018 Investment Climate Statements, which provided information on the business climates of more than 170 countries including Nigeria, also noted that smuggled goods routinely enter Nigeria’s seaports and cross its land borders.

In the mean time, receiving a delegation of the International Maritime Security Operations Team (IMSOT) from the United Kingdom that paid a working visit to NIMASA, the agency’s boss, Peter side, regretted what he called the exaggeration of reports on incidences on the country’s waterways by the IMB, a specialised department of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) dedicated to fighting maritime crime and malpractice.

He bemoaned what he called the distortion of facts in the coverage of Nigeria by the bureau, saying such distortions can do reputational damage to the country within the international community.

“Let me use this opportunity to call on the IMB to, please, report Nigeria appropriately and appreciate the efforts we are making to curtail security incidences within our maritime space. Is it in our laws that we are strengthening, is it investment in intelligence, maritime security and safety and also the regional collaboration we have engaged in, among other efforts being made.

“We have made tremendous progress because we are putting a lot of effort and we are willing and determined to work with anybody who can assist us to ensure that the maritime space in Nigeria is safe and secure for everybody,” Peter side told the delegation, according to a press statement signed by Isichei Osamgbi, Head, Corporate Communications of NIMASA.

But the impact of such plea is doubtful given the data on global piracy attacks that put Nigeria as second only to Somalia, a failed state without a central government for decades running.

The report by IMB says Nigeria, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Venezuela and Benin Republic led the table in the number of attempted attacks, number of vessels boarded by pirates, number of vessels fired upon, number of hijacked vessels and number of suspicious boats operated by pirates.

A breakdown of the report further revealed that Nigeria recorded 31 attacks, closely followed by Indonesia with 25, while Bangladesh and Venezuela recorded 7 attacks each. Others are Republic of Benin and Ghana with 5 attacks each. According to the report, Bulk carriers suffered the most in the attacks against vessels as 39 of such vessels were attacked since the beginning of the year. Tanker vessels also recorded 30 attacks in the first six months of the year while passenger vessels recorded only one attack so far this year.

On the number of attacks on vessels on anchorage, Nigeria led other countries with 14 of such attacks, followed by Indonesia with 11 and Bangladesh with 7 recorded attacks.

The NIMASA boss urged IMB to ensure fairness and balance in its reportage of piracy issues on Nigeria’s territorial waters, stating that “even the slightest crimes in the creeks and habours of Nigeria were often reported as piracy by the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre.”

Peterside noted that the agency had put mechanisms in place to reduce piracy to the barest minimum. These, he said, include investing in the satellite surveillance system, which has the capacity to view all vessels on the country’s waterways; supporting the security agencies to acquire assets that will enable them fight piracy and other maritime crimes; and proposing an anti-piracy bill that, when it becomes law, will give the Agency the authority to prosecute maritime related crimes, among others.

In his words, “maritime security is multi-sectoral and the need for collaboration cannot be overstated; hence the reason the Agency has continuously embraced collaboration with relevant government agencies and stakeholders with the intent of realising a robust maritime sector in line with best global practices.

“We will continue to accord high priority to the issues of maritime crimes so that we can maximally benefit from the Blue Economy initiative, which is now the focus in the global maritime space.”

He assured the IMSOT delegate that the Agency was willing to collaborate with them and share ideas where necessary, all on purpose to grow Nigeria’s maritime sector.

In his remarks, the IMSOT team leader, Leigh Smith, commended NIMASA for its efforts to maintain security on the country’s territorial waters and high sea. He urged continuous collaboration in the areas of technology and information sharing. “We will work together with NIMASA and also share knowledge together; all with the intent of ensuring security in the global maritime space,” he said.

A major highlight of the visit was the inauguration of the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code Implementation Committee (ICIC) by the DG. He asked the committee to ensure there was a remarkable difference in the next one year through their actions, the rules and regulation set, and collaboration with other stakeholders.

“I trust that you will give your best to this assignment; it is about the reputation of our country, our sector, our ports, the shipping companies, those who do business with us and our stand in the face of the international community,” Peterside said.

The ICIC is a committee chaired by NIMASA, the Designated Authority for the ISPS Code initiative. It is made up of various government agencies, including the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Nigeria Police, the Department of State Services, Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Customs Service, and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), among others. They are charged with the responsibility of working out modalities for the implementation of the ISPS Code in Nigeria.

Not only that the spate of attacks is giving Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea a negative image in the comity of maritime nations, it is the major cause of high freight costs because shipowners and crew members often demand for high insurance premiums before embarking on voyage to Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea.

Maritime industry experts have argued that the absence of an effective maritime governance system, obstructs freedom of movement in the region, disrupts trade, economic growth, and facilitates environmental crimes.

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