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Nigeria: Piracy and the Fate of Nigerian Shippers

This Day (Lagos)
Sunday, July 14, 2013

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With the latest report released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), ranking the Gulf of Guinea as having overtaken Somalia in piracy menace, Nigeria and other ECOWAS leaders are stepping up efforts to police the coastal waters in the region, reports Francis Ugwoke.

The latest report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) that Nigeria has now overtaken Somalia in terms of pirate attacks in West African sub-region is no doubt of serious concern to all international traders and indeed the Federal Government. This is considering the implication on the national economy. This also explains the recent meeting of African leaders which focused on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea held in Cameroun. Already, Nigeria is contesting the decision of the European shipowners to hike shipping charges on goods coming to the country as a result of increasing piracy. The decision to hike charges was taken early last year by the shipowners who argue that vessels operating in the Gulf of Guinea are being attacked on regular intervals. Between 2011 and in recent time, there have been indeed spontaneous attacks on vessels which resulted in the death of some crew members on board as well as loss of cargoes.

IMB Report Against Nigeria, Others In the IMB report, 966 seafarers were attacked by pirates in West Africa, including Nigeria in 2012 as against 851 off the Somali waters. The report showed that 206 of the hostages seized by pirates were killed. The world maritime organisation is probably worried that the pirates steal mostly wet cargoes, money from the crew in addition to violence. The petroleum products seized are usually sold to willing buyers in the black market. In Somali, the pirates, usually hijack vessels and wait for ransom to be paid before letting the seafarers and ships go. The Somali case was so serious about two years ago that the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) moved forces to address the problem. Described as the deadliest over the decades, Somali coast is so dangerous that the IMO and other governments had to raise a special security to protect ships passing through the coast. Somali has been notorious in piracy for decades.

High Shipping Charges by shipowners Early last year, following reports of increased piracy on the Gulf of Guinea, the European shipowners quickly held a meeting and swiftly introduced new shipping charges for goods coming to Nigeria and other West African countries. The shipowners, according to importers have continued to raise charges since then. Indications are that with the latest official report about Nigeria overtaking Somalia in piracy, the shipowners may even consider more hike in premium risk charges.

Efforts by NIMASA to Tackle Piracy The nation's apex maritime body which is saddled with security on the territorial waters has been making efforts to address the issue of piracy. It was for this reason that the agency engaged the services of Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL) to provide special security on vessels operating on the nation's territorial waters. This is in addition to the collaboration between the Nigerian Navy and the agency. It would be recalled that the GWVSL had last year lost its Managing Diector, Capt. Romeo Itima, in the war against oil thieves in Escravos, Warri. Director General of NIMASA, Mr Patrick Akpbolokemi had told newsmen that the activities of the pirates have a way of impacting negatively on attracting foreign investment to the country.

As at last year, NIMASA requested the engagement of 124 military personnel who will be part of its Maritime Guard Command (MGC), a unit that is part of the policing of the territorial waters. To a large extent, the unit has recorded arrests of pirates and checked the activities of oil thieves encouraging illegal refineries. Perhaps, what has been the handicap of the agency is the fact that some of the suspects arrested have had to escape justice as NIMASA does not have the power of prosecution. The Deputy Director, Public Relations, Mr Isichei Osambi told THISDAY that the agency is on top of the situation in checking piracy on the nation's territorial waters. Osambi said that Akpobolokemi in his concern about having safe territorial waters has ordered 24- hour policing of the Nigerian waters to protect all types of vessels. NIMASA apart from having security presence in Nigerian waters is also policing the coastal waters of Benin Republic because of the link with Nigeria.

Moves by African Leaders to Check Piracy Apparently worried about the negative impact of piracy on the West African region, President Goodluck Jonathan and other African leaders met in Cameroun recently to discuss how to address the problem. It was a special summit of Heads of State and Governments of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) on maritime security in the region. Jonathan told journalists at the end of the meeting that since the highest number of attacks take place on the Nigerian waters, his administration will expand cooperation with other African countries to check the activities of the sea robbers. "The only way we can contain it is for the countries within the Central African region and West African region to come together. Already, Nigeria and Benin Republic have been partnering but we need to expand across the coast, the West African coast and the Central African coast. So this is the beginning of the end of these excesses of piracy, so we are quite pleased with the conference", he said. The Camerounian Minister of External Relations, Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo, in a communique released after the meeting, said the member states of the three blocs-ECOWAS, ECCAS and GGC agreed on a coalition for a multi-lateral assistance amongst all the 25 members against pirates.

Position of Stakeholders on Piracy Stakeholders who spoke to THISDAY on the issue of piracy on the Gulf of Guinea said that the issue is being blown out of proportion. The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello, who said that the issue of piracy is a matter of evidence, expressed concern on the decision of the European shipowners to increase shipping charges on claims of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Maintaining that the shipowners will retrace their steps on the issue as the federal government has taken up the matter, Bello said that what is happening include offences committed on board the ship. A member of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Prof Benedict Ayade, told THISDAY that the issue is being exaggerated. Ayade regretted that Nigeria was not in IMO to contest some of the claims on piracy as far as the Gulf of Guinea is concerned. "If we were in IMO, we will play a very major role in evaluating the risk levels that have been attached in the Gulf of Guinea. A situation in which the Gulf of Guinea has been rated as the most pirate-prone route and premiums have gone up in all the vessels... ... I think the assessment is unfair. The Gulf of Guinea has not suffered the level of piracy that I know in other routes. Why the Gulf of Guinea in the whole world!"

Senator Ayade added, "So, it calls for worry and that is why Nigeria must be part of IMO, so that we have a voice. Look at the Singaporean experience, they put a team together, they gathered statistics globally and argued that Singapore is not the place you must give that high rating of piracy. And within one year, they dropped their name from the list, because they fought back. Because they had a team, they had articulated their position based on international statistics. That is why we must come in this year, because if we don't do that, the premium must continue for every vessel coming to Nigeria, the insurance premium... . you will pay through your nose . That will add to the domestic cost and goods in Nigeria".

The Secretary General of Institute of Marine Engineers, Engr. Alexander Peters who also described the claims of IMB as exaggerated however said this has been the reason for the increase in shipping charges. Peters said that the only solution was for the government to step up action to check the activities of pirates. He maintained that Nigeria cannot be in the same ranking with Somalia in piracy. "Somalia is a failed state, and Nigeria is not a failed state. In Nigeria, government is on ground to check pirates and they don't have the kind of freedom they enjoy in Somalia. He called for long term plan to check the pirates rather than short term. He said that government must work hard on ensuring that the pirates who thrive on hijacking petroleum products do not get buyers, adding that this measure will make piracy unattractive.

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