With the needed boost, the Nigerian Navy has been able to ward off some criminal activities that are inimical to the nation’s economy and security, writes PRECIOUS IGBONWELUNDU
With about 90 per cent reliance on the sea for her export and import trade volumes, the job of securing Nigeria’s maritime domain is no tea party. It requires the right mix of human, capital resources and the political will to overrun economic saboteurs across the country’s about 420nm coastline and 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), translating to about 84,000 square nautical miles, as well as the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) which is about 574,800 square nautical miles.
Blessed with mineral and natural resources, including oil and gas installations, this area has consistently been threatened by maritime crimes such as piracy, sea robbery, crude oil theft, illegal oil bunkering, Illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, militancy and hostage- taking; vices that robbed the country of billions of dollars revenue.
Faced with the onerous responsibility of securing this vast maritime space, the Nigerian Navy (NN) executed her roles commendably until hell broke loose following the embargo the country suffered between 1993 and 1999; no thanks to political instability caused by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
The Navy was unable to import or export military equipment and this led to the deterioration of existing facilities, which could not be maintained. Most of her ships and other platforms, which were being used to maintain regular presence at sea to fight criminals, became dysfunctional.
With the return to democracy in 1999, the service’s cry for fleet recapitalisation continuously fell on deaf ears despite the escapades of pirates, illegal oil bunkers, crude oil thieves and other criminality and militancy on the high seas and at the country’s backwaters.
Faced with the myriads of maritime security challenges, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan initiated steps to restore the glorious days of the naval force but not much was achieved until President Muhammadu Buhari stepped in and gave the service the needed boost.
This year alone, the NN acquired 20 Riverside Patrol Boats, 20 Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) and two 25 Man House Boats which have been activated into the service’s fleet, while several others are being constructed within and outside the country and due for inauguration next year.
They include a 60m Hydrographic Survey Ship; two 40m FPBs; one 43m SDB III from Naval Dockyard Limited Lagos; two 35m FPBs; a 24m FPB and four Manta Class Boats.
Others include 20 RHIBs, 23 8.5m Riverside Patrol Boats, a 25man house boat and one Leonardo Helicopter AW139.
With the acquisition/construction of capital ships, patrol boats and rehabilitation of some old ones, the NN activated several dedicated operations geared towards securing the maritime domain, a critical requirement for legitimate economic activities to thrive.
These operations included Choke Point Management and Control Regime, River Sweep, TSARE TEKU, Calm Waters and Swift Response which contributed to improved maritime security with significant economic gains.
Inaugurated in 2016, the Choke Point Regime involves deployment of armed personnel in houseboats at strategic locations within the creeks supported by patrol boats. So far, 10 houseboats otherwise known as Naval Security Stations (NSS) have been deployed in areas where crude oil theft and illegal refining activities are known to be prevalent.
According to Naval Chief of Training and Operations (CTOPs) Rear Admiral Tariworio Dick, the Choke Point Regime has been instrumental to some of the successes recorded by the NN this year.
“For instance, a total of 70 large wooden boats were arrested for involvement in illegalities this year and 463 large wooden boats were destroyed within the same period. In contrast, 31 large wooden boats were arrested last year while 176 large wooden boats were destroyed within the same period.
“The increase in the number of wooden boats arrested this year compared to the records for last year is attributable to, among other things, the improved efficiency of NSS. This is reflective in the improved production capacity as alluded to by the NNPC and IOCs, due to reduced down time associated with breaching of pipelines,” he said.
Dick said the activation of Operation River Sweep was premised on the noticeable increase in activities of illegal refineries, particularly in Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states.
“The operation involves air surveillance, insertion of Special Forces by gunboats, pulling down of identified Illegal Refining Sites (IRS) with the use of swamp buggies as well as arrest/destruction of boats and barges found in such locations.
“This year, a total of 378 IRS were destroyed by the operation resulting in the arrest of 62 speed boats and 275 suspects for involvement in either COT/illegal bunkering or smuggling of petroleum products. In contrast, 637 IRS were destroyed last year, with 104 speed boats and 340 suspects arrested.
“The observed reduction in the number of sites and arrests is attributable to the introduction of swamp buggy operations to completely destroy identified illegal refineries, thus making reactivation more difficult.
“A geo-spatial mapping of destroyed illegal refining sites revealed close proximity of the IRS with crude oil pipeline networks in Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states.
Evidently, criminal elements have continued to threaten national strategic infrastructure, in spite of ongoing operations, massive sensitisation and media campaigns.
“The NN has, therefore, resolved to sustain raids on criminal hideouts discovered during aerial surveillances by NN Helicopters.
“Operations TSARE TEKU and Calm Waters are dedicated naval operations activated in 2016 and this year respectively with the mandate to combat attacks on shipping and other illegal activities in designated areas.
“Operation Calm Waters focuses on backwater operations while TSARE TEKU is concerned with operations beyond the coastline. These operations are partly responsible for the reduction in reported incidents of sea robbery and piracy within Nigerian waters.
According to records, from January to December 16, this year, a total of 16 pirate attacks were reported with six successful and 10 unsuccessful.
“This is an improvement in comparison to the records for last year where a total of 34 pirate attacks were reported with nine successful and 25 unsuccessful. To rid Nigerian waters of the threats posed by pirates as well as the attendant economic implications, the NN will continue to sustain and improve on current efforts in Operations TSARE TEKU and Calm Waters.
“The NN, in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, activated Operation Swift Response to curtail the increasing threat posed by smuggling in Nigeria.
“On its part, the NN inducted more patrol boats and vessels to bolster the ongoing anti-smuggling and border security operation, in support of the Federal Government’s initiative.
“The operation has resulted in several arrests and seizures as shown on the screen. Specifically, the operation resulted in the confiscation of about 10 trucks of 33,000 litres of petroleum products (valued at over N80 million) and seizure of about 14,056 bags of rice worth over N210 million from August 19 to date.
“To this end, the NN has contributed immensely to addressing menace of smuggling and other economic crimes within the country’s maritime environment,” he said.
Continuing, Dick said the NN’s Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) facilities ensured prompt reporting of attacks on vessels at sea which led to foiling of several piracy incidents.
“Through the assistance of the MDA systems, the NN arrested 40 vessels, including 17 fishing vessels for contravening Nigerian Fisheries Act and 25 barges this year in contrast to the arrest of 34 vessels and 11 barges last year,” he said.