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10 pirates arrested off Nigerian waters Thursday would be first to be tried under Nigeria’s anti-piracy law

The 10 pirates who last Thursday May 15 attacked and boarded a Chinese vessel, MV HAILUFANG II, off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire and directed it towards Nigerian waters but were arrested by Nigerian Navy Special Forces would be the first to be prosecuted under the new Nigerian anti-piracy law.

Officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) confirmed this on Tuesday in Lagos during the official handover of the pirates by the Nigerian Navy to the maritime agency for prosecution.

On 24 June 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the “Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill” to improve security in Nigerian waters through ensuring safe and secure shipping at sea, prosecute infractions and criminalise piracy.

Nigeria became the first country in the Gulf of Guinea (GOG) to enact such a law, thus fulfilling the international requirement for a separate legislation against piracy set by the IMO, as to ensure global shipping.

The new law includes a distinct definition of piracy and other maritime offences, provides penalties upon conviction for maritime crimes, restitution of violated maritime assets to owners and forfeiture of proceeds from maritime crime to the government.

The law vests exclusive jurisdiction in the Nigerian Federal High Court, providing relevant authorities   with the power of seizing pirate vessels or aircraft in Nigerian or international waters.

Before the law came into effect, a June 2017 law on maritime operations criminalised piracy. In January 2018, President Buhari rejected the first maritime security bill as he called for a holistic approach against piracy.

Director-General of NIMASA, Dr Bashir Jamoh, represented by Head of Legal Services, Mr Victor Egejuru, said that “the prosecution of the pirates will be the first trial of bandits arrested in international waters under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act signed into law in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari. The law made Nigeria the first in West and Central Africa to have a distinct antipiracy legislation,” he said.

Jamoh attributed the successful operation that led to the arrest of the pirates and rescue of the ship and its crew to collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy, stating that the agency would continue to work with relevant security agencies in order to achieve its goal of eradicating piracy and all forms of illegality on Nigerian waters.

According to the NIMASA head, “we have just witnessed the handover of pirates. This is as a result of the robust collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. There has been a lot of synergy between NIMASA and the Navy with regard to the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act. I also want to seize the opportunity to thank Mr President for signing the anti-piracy law, which would facilitate sufficient prosecution of these pirates,” he said.

Jamoh assured that with the anti-piracy law, there was ample legal framework to prosecute pirates and other perpetrators of maritime offences in the country to bring the menace to the barest minimum.

He said that the current management of NIMASA would focus on three main areas, namely, maritime security, safety, and shipping development in pursuit of a robust maritime domain for the country.

Commander of Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Beecroft, Commodore Ibrahim Shettima, who gave details of the naval operation that led to the arrest of the 10 pirates said the Chinese vessel had 18 crew members including Chinese, Ghanaians, and Ivorians.

Commodore Shettima said: “On interception of the vessel about 140 nautical miles South of Lagos Fairway Buoy, the pirates refused to comply with the orders of the Navy ship. The Nigerian Navy had to conduct an opposed boarding of the vessel. All ship crew were safely rescued, while the 10 pirates were also arrested.”

He stressed the need for increased regional cooperation and information sharing, adding that the arrest of the pirates was due to a tip-off by the Beninoise Navy.

Shettima warned criminal elements to stay away from Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, saying the Navy had the capability to deal with such threats.

But the reality is that despite the deployment of Nigerian Navy vessels to patrol the nation’s waters, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says that the Gulf of Guinea remains the world’s piracy hotspot.

The GoG, of which the Nigerian Navy is the leading naval force, stretches from Gabon to Liberia with the coastline include the Bights of Benin and Bight of Bonny.

IMB’s 24-hour Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) recorded 21 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in the first quarter and 12 of the attacks were on vessels underway at an average of 70 nautical miles off the coast.

The body also stated that 10 vessels were fired on worldwide last year, four reported being fired at within Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the first quarter of 2020. The attack included the one on a container ship underway 130 nm southwest of Brass, Nigeria.

In 2013, Gulf of Guinea Heads of State and Government met in Yaounde, Cameroon and adopted the Yaoundé Declaration on the Gulf of Guinea Security, which led to the creation of the inter-regional Coordination Centre on Maritime Safety and Security for Central and West Africa, with headquarters in Yaoundé.

This also led to the implementation of a new Code of Conduct Concerning the Prevention and Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships and Illegal Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa.

This paved way for the creation and organisation of Gulf of Guinea Navies into maritime zones with Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Gendarmerie of the Republic of Niger forming the ECOWAS Maritime Zone E.

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