By Evelyn Usman
In the last 2 decades, piracy and sea robbery within the Golf of Guinea have become a major point of discussion, with the region ranked as one of the most troubled waterways.
It is estimated that the annual cost of piracy to the GoG region is over USD 2 billion. In addition to this, is the emerging security occurrences within the Nigerian Maritime domain which stem from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities. Their manifestations include attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft.
There are also various forms of illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution. Crime Guard decided to take a peep into the Nigerian Navy’s operation in 2020, being the lead agency responsible for security in the country’s vast maritime environment and in its GoG corridor, where the country has its maritime area of interest of about 574,800 square nautical miles spanning a total coastline of 2,874nm from Senegal to Angola.
This is to ascertain whether the Navy’s efforts at emplacing a viable domain for maritime business and legitimate socio-economic activities to thrive, yielded any results and also to determine whether the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibas-Ibok Ete’s Strategic Directive 1 and 2 Police Thrust which focused on eight key priority areas to be achieved by the Navy under his watch, were indeed delivered.
Record at Crime Guard’s disposal showed that the NN anti-piracy operations recorded several successes in the fight against pirates and sea robbers. In the year under review, 22 pirate attacks were recorded in the nation’s Economic Exclusive Zone, EEZ, out of which 10 were foiled by the Navy. However, the spike in piracy activities was evident in the fourth quarter of year 2020, with six attacks. December 2020 recorded the highest number of attacks when compared to other months. In January, three pirate attacks were recorded, one was recorded in February, the months of March and April recorded two pirates attacks each, while none was recorded in May.
Between June and October, one attack each was recorded while three were recorded in the month of November. But the trend of pirates attacks within the Nigerian’s Maritime Environment in the last six years revealed that year 2020 recorded the third least number of attacks. Seventeen attacks were recorded in year 2015. The year 2016 had the highest number of attacks with 70 cases.
In the year 2017, 48 pirate attacks were recorded, while the years 2018 and 2019 recorded 36 and 21 attacks respectively.
Although there was a slight increase in 2020 attacks within the country’s maritime domain, more than 70 per cent of the attacks were reportedly unsuccessful due to the NN robust surveillance system and response capability.
In the Golf of Guinea, 44 pirate attacks were recorded last year. When compared to the last six years, the figure showed it was the second least record of attack in that corridor, as 34 attacks were recorded in 2015; 89 in 2016, making the year the highest attack recorded in six years.
In year 2017, 55 attacks were recorded; 70 in year 2018 and 47 in year 2019. Although there was a slight increase in 2020 piracy attacks within NME, more than 70 percent of the attacks were reportedly unsuccessful due to NN robust surveillance system and response capability, through its anti-piracy operations which led to several arrests and raids of suspected pirate camps and discoveries of assorted arms and ammunitions.
Despite the successes achieved in bringing the rate of piracy to the barest minimum in the year, especially in the first three quarters of 2020, the spate of pirates’ attacks and abduction of ships’ crew within Nigeria’s EEZ and the GoG witnessed an increase in recent months.
This was adduced to the clampdown on Crude Oil and illegal oil refining which made perpetrators of these acts to switch to piracy and abduction of seafarers for ransom to meet their financial obligations.
To tackle this, the Naval High Command said it had emplaced a robust strategy by conducting intensive clearance operations across suspected enclaves of pirates and cults gangs to deny them safe refuge and neutralize their activities. This approach appears to have stemmed the activities of these pirates and by extension led to some calm in the nation’s waters.
The successes recorded by the NN as gathered, necessitated other neighbouring nations to solicit for assistance during emergency situations within their waters. For instance, MV TOMMI RITSCHER, a Portuguese flagship that was attacked in Benin waters on April 19, 2020, was rescued by the NN.
Also, FV HAILUFENG II hijacked off the Coast of Cote d’Ivoire on May 15, 2020, was rescued by the NN. Similarly, MV ELOBEY VI, boarded by pirates in Equatorial Guinea waters on March 21, 2020 as well as attempted piracy attack on MV ESL AUSTRALIA on May 20,2020, were all neutralized following the Nigerian Navy’s timely response.
In 2020, record showed that over 72.5 per cent of NN operational ships were at sea for an average of 27,758 hours, between January and December 2020. This number of hours on sea, exceeded previous years.
For instance, its operational ships were at seas for 20,722 hours in year 2015; 22,394 hours in the year 2016; 20,499 hours in 2017; 20,014 hours in 2018 and 20,758 hours in 2019.
Within the period under review, a total of 87 vessels, 43 barges, 57 speed boats and 393 wooden boats were arrested and deactivated.
In the year 2020, the Navy also deactivated 982 illegal local refineries/refining sites with about 487 suspects arrested. A breakdown of this figure showed that 73 illegal refineries were deactivated in January; 87 in February; 69 in March; 74 in April; 70 in May; 80 in June and 67 in July.
The highest number of illegal refinery deactivated , was recorded in the month of August, with 78. In September 2020, 68 were recorded; 70 in October while the months of November December recorded 73 deactivated refineries each.
Crude oil thieves who operated illegal bunkery were denied Crude oil total of 3,136,877 barrels as well as over 7,167,831 litres of different petroleum products. A breakdown of these products showed that 1,52,087 barrels of Crude Oil, 539,829 metric tones of Automated Gas Oil, 21,610 litres Premium Motor Spirit and 289,400 of Dual Purpose kerosene, DPK were denied illegal bunkery.
Sustained NN anti-COT/Illegal oil bunkering effort within the year under review, reportedly led to increased oil production and reduction of oil loses in 2020, despite the COVID-19, when compared with previous years, as indicated in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s report.
The report revealed 99.7 per cent decrease losses for the NNPC, 167 percent profit increase for NPDC, 4966 percent profit for IDSL and 52 per cent profit increase for PPMC.
Within the period under review, the NN also made giant strides in its anti-smuggling operations. Although it has been involved in anti-smuggling operations but its effort has been redoubled due to closer collaboration with other stakeholders, sequel to the Federal Government’s launching of OPERATION CALM WATERS and OPERATION SWIFT RESPONSE.
During the temporary closure of both land and maritime borders, smugglers adopted different strategies to evade arrest. But they were denied freedom of action.
Consequently, 284 smugglers were arrested while 25,601 bags of foreign bags of rice were confiscated. When added to seizures between 2016 – 2019 where a total of 77,680 bags of foreign estimated at N1,553,600,000 at N20,000 per bag were seized.
The same period, 140 tankers/ trucks and 404 vehicles involved in smuggling activities were also impounded. Sequel to the Federal Government’s recent directive to open the nation’s borders, with stringent measures to prevent smuggling activities, the NN said it had directed her units and formations across the country having common maritime borders with other countries, to employ more intelligence and sustain patrol effort in order to arrest perpetrators of smuggling activities and their sponsors.
Also, 593 vessels/trucks/barges/boats suspected of committing various infractions within the nation’s maritime domain were impounded in 2020. Vessels among them were 87; 43 were barges; 57 were speed boats, while 393 were wooden boats which were destroyed. There were also 13 trucks and 16 impounded vehicles. Thirteen of these vessels as gathered, had already been forfeited to the Federal Government while others were handed over to various
In the year 2020, the NN said it sustained support for various joint operations such as: OP SWIFT RESPONSE, LAFIYA DOLE and SAFE HAVEN. Other joint operations with strong NN participation included: OPERATION DELTA SAFE, AWATSE and SAFE CORRIDOR.
To reinforce its participation in the joint operation at the North East, the Naval Base Lake Chad (NBLC) was established in 2016 at Baga, to secure the fringes of the Lake Chad in support of the collective effort of OP LAFIYA DOLE and to deny the insurgents unhindered access across the maritime islands.
However, due to heavy terrorist activities within the Kukawa Local Government Area in 2018, the Base was eventually dislodged in December 2018 and had to relocate back to Maiduguri Metropolis where she continued to perform other specialist roles in support of the joint operations.
Fleet renewal which one of the critical pillars of Strategic Directive 1 and 2 of the Vice Admiral Ibas-led Nigerian Navy, which strategic objective is to develop the right mix of ships and air asset capability to effectively sustain the NN presence across the spectrum of maritime area of interests.
In 2020, the Navy made significant strides in the recapitalization of her fleet. With the support of the Federal Government, it has acquired offshore patrol vessels, fast attack craft, boat and aircraft.
Among them was : one Hydrographic Survey Ship from OCEA SA which has been launched and expected to be delivered by April 2021.
In addition, five OCEA FPB were added to the Nigerian Navy Fleet during the year under review. Others were: 4 x C-Falcon 17m Inshore Patrol Craft from OCEA South Africa; a four units of 17meters Manta Boats by Messrs Suncraft, scheduled to arrive ‘this month, in addition to the Ministry of Defence Emergency Procurement of 2 x 40m Fast Patrol Boat by Messrs DAMEN which is also awaiting delivery.
Similarly, capital ships, comprising 25 units of 9.5m RHIBs and 15 units of 8.5m RHIBs Boats were constructed by Suncraft for the NN and are currently in Naval Dockyard Limited, Victoria Island, Lagos, undergoing As & As before final acceptance. Ninety other boats are reportedly expected for delivery or have been distributed to NN units.
The NN also said it had taken delivery of 1 X AW 139 Helicopter from Messrs Leonardo Helicopter currently waiting commissioning in Lagos and also in the process of procuring a total of 14 UAVs to enhance response capability, through Messrs Epsilon in South Africa and CACTIC in China. These are expected to be delivered within this year.
In the last six years, a total of 378 platforms of varying categories, including 172 RPBs, 114 RHIBs, 2 SDBs, 12 Manta Class/IPCs, 3 Whaler Boats, 3 Tug Boats and 2 barges were procured by the Nigerian Navy.
Other platforms acquired included 22 Fast Attack Boats, 14 UAVs, 4 Helicopters, 14 River Town Class, 12 House boats and 4 Capital ships. The fleet renewal is said to have paid off, with increased NN footprints across the maritime domain, with the arrest hundreds of suspected criminals for various maritime offences in 2020, attributed to it. B
Statistics further showed that over 90 construction and related projects have been undertaken from January to December 2020, with over 80 per cent of them completed and others at various stages of completion.
Key infrastructural projects were the reconstruction of Jetties at NSL Port Harcourt, Under Water Warfare School Ojo, NOP KOLUAMA and other FOBs which are at various stages of construction.
In a bid to adequately motivate its personnel for improved output, efforts according to the Navy, was doubled in 2020 to provide decent accommodation, schools and other welfare projects. Records showed that over 31 housing units were initiated across the country, 20 of which had been completed and commissioned for use while others were under construction.
These include the fencing of the barracks and construction of the 163 meter driveway to ratings quarters at NNS. UGARD in Lokoja as well as the connection of the barracks to the national grid.
Others include various units of accommodation for officers and ratings accommodation at Kubwa, Asokoro, Abuja and Navy Town Lagos.
Befitting institutional houses were also constructed for CBMs of operational commands while the contract has been awarded for the construction of a 320 capacity auditorium for Naval War College in Calabar, Cross River State.
From the foregoing, it is evident that the Nigerian Navy is geared towards taking the centre stage to ensure a zero tolerant posture to criminality within the nation’s maritime domain and its corridor in the Golf of Guinea. However, more still need to be done in the area of sustaining a lasting presence in the water, as that is one major deterrence to those engaged in maritime Illegalities.