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Nigeria battles maritime insecurity, with record 75 per cent of piracy in Gulf of Guinea

  • In 2020, Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95 per cent of global kidnappings at sea, with record 130 crew members kidnapped in 22 separate incidents.

Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, says Nigeria accounts for 65 to 75 per cent of the crime that takes place on the waters in the Gulf of Guinea.

Amaechi, while receiving the Belgium Ambassador to Nigeria, said President Muhammadu Buhari would launch the new maritime security architecture in June 2021 to stem the tide of maritime crimes in the region.

According to the Minister, “the crisis in the maritime sector is the maritime insecurity and it is more complex than the world knows. But the Federal Government has come up with a solution and it’s ready to take off. The Navy, Police, Army and State Security Service are involved.

“If it’s successful, in the near future, there will be improvement in the maritime security, then other countries in the Gulf of the Guinea can adopt it.

“Seventy-five per cent or 65 per cent of crime comes from our water and if we’re able to eliminate it, then we’ll be making a lot of progress.”

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), an arm of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which tracks piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, said that in 2020, the region accounted for 95 per cent of all global kidnappings at sea, with a record 130 crew members kidnapped during 22 separate incidents.

In one of the most daring piracy attack from shore in 2020 which also involved the most crew kidnapped from a single vessel, eight pirates armed with machine guns boarded a Merchant Tanker around 196 nautical miles Southwest of Bayelsa State, Nigeria. They held all 19 crew members hostage, stole ship’s documents and valuable items, and escaped with 13 seafarers. One month later, all 13 crew members were safely released.

As such, IMB advises vessels in the region to remain at least 250 nautical miles from the coast at all times, or until the vessel can transit to start cargo operations at a safe anchorage.

Following the report, IMO said in February 2021 that the severity severity of piracy and other sea crimes and general attacks on shipping vessels by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea poses threat to global trade and a “serious and immediate threat” to crews and vessels operating in West African waters.

The Gulf of Guinea extends from Senegal to Angola and is a key shipping route for the transportation of oil and gas, as well as goods, between central and southern Africa.

There are 1,500 fishing vessels, tankers and cargo ships navigating the gulf’s waters on a daily basis, according to the European Union’s maritime safety fact sheet.

But Nigeria is moving to erase the worrisome record of being the base for maritime crimes in the world as it deploys weapons systems to implement the Deep Blue Project designed to secure Nigerian waters up to the Gulf of Guinea.

The assets, when fully deployed, will secure the sub-region and Gulf of Guinea against piracy, armed robbery at sea, crude oil theft and illegal bunkering, poaching, smuggling, vandalism, kidnapping, proliferation of small arms, illegal waste dumping and oil pollution.

It is being executed under the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, popularly called the Deep Blue Project.

Designed with three categories of platforms to tackle maritime security issues on land, sea, and air, the land assets comprise the Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence Centre (C4i) for intelligence gathering and data collection; 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol and about 600 specially trained troops for interdiction, known as Maritime Security Unit.

On air, there are two Special Mission Aircraft for surveillance of the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), one of which was received Wednesday, with the second expected to arrive May 18; three Special Mission Helicopters for search and rescue; and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

The sea assets consist of two Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats.

But the backbone of the war against maritime insecurity is the Nigerian Navy, which has made it its cardinal focus.

Towards, this, it is already armed with platforms, most of them newly acquired.

The Navy, in its recapitalization of fleet, has already acquired 378 platforms, including warships, patrol boats and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Among them are 172 patrol boats, 114 Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs), two Seaward Defence Boats, 12 Manta class boats, three Whaler boats, three tugs and two barges.

Other platforms acquired include 22 fast attack boats, 14 UAVs, four helicopters, 14 River Town class boats, 12 house boats and four capital ships.

With the array of platforms and the determination of the Navy, the unenviable record as the headquarters of maritime crimes in the world would be wiped off the face of Nigeria.

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