Pirates on the prowl, unleash mayhem on Nigeria’s maritime domain
The high level of insecurity in Nigerian waterways has ignited a fresh anger within the nation’s maritime domain, raising further questions as to the propriety of the $195 million contract awarded to an Israeli firm, HLSI Security Systems and Technologies, to secure the country’s maritime space.
In one of the most recent incidents, suspected pirates on Saturday April
21, 2018, kidnapped12 crew members on a Dutch cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria.
The attack occurred early in the morning as the vessel was nearing the Port Harcourt, port in Nigeria.
The ship owner, ForestWave Navigation, confirmed that 12 of 14 crew members on board their general cargo ship FWN Rapide were taken from the vessel. The two remaining crew members were reported safe with the vessel allegedly moved to a secure location.
ForestWave also said that its main priority is to establish contact with the missing seafarers and secure their earliest and safe return. “The company’s Emergency Response team is working round the clock in liaison with the local and international authorities. ForestWave, together with its local organisations, are in close contact with the families of the valued seafarers to support them in these difficult times,” the company said in a statement.
The firm had also commended the two crew members for their “courageous and professional handling” of the incident, crediting them with moving the ship to a safe location after the attack.
In an earlier statement, ForestWave said it has activated an emergency response team now monitoring the situation extremely closely.
“We are currently in close contact with the authorities and taking professional advice in order to secure the earliest release of those that are currently being held,” ForestWave said. “Together with our local representatives in the countries of origin of our valued seafarers we are keeping the families of the FWN Rapide crew informed about the situation.
“ForestWave will not be providing any further information in order not to jeopardise the safety of those involved,” the company added.
Meanwhile, AIS ship tracking data showed the FWN Rapide was sailing from Takoradi, Ghana to Bonny, Nigeria when the attack took place.
According to a report, about 200 passenger deaths are recorded a year worldwide given that over 21.7 million people cruise each year.
However, the number does not include people who died from going overboard.
These developments often raise serious concerns when one realises that on Monday October 30, 2017, the
Minister of Transportation, Mr Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, informed Nigerians that the Federal Government had approved the award of a security contract valued at $195 million (about N60 billion) to an Israeli firm, HLSI Security Systems and Technologies, to procure security equipment and train Nigerian security personnel to tackle crimes on the nation’s waterways.
He said the agreement became imperative given the high charges shipping firms pay for security escort on Nigerian waterways, adding that due to insecurity on the nation’s waterways, the maritime sector spends $18 million on a yearly basis in addition to high war risk insurance payable by shippers to do business on the waters.
“Mr President has kindly approved that, and that is being done through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). They will train our navy, our army and our police for three years so that we can stop spending money escorting boats and vessels on our waterways” he said.
But stakeholders have already condemned the idea of ceding the nation’s maritime security to a foreign firm, saying that when the former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan awarded the contract to Tompolo, there were less incidences of attacks on Nigerian waters.
“It is clear that most of the policies of the Nigerian government since after the war have been induced by either personal or group interest. Otherwise, there are certain due diligences that ought to be carried out before policies are formulated.
Monitoring of our national and international waterways is an exclusive internal affairs matter. It is therefore very risky to hand such crucial and strategic issues to foreigners. It is like completely mortgaging the security of the country to a foreign company. We have our police. We have our customs. In some countries they have what is called coast guards. We have more than enough security personnel to handle this task if there is sincerity of purpose. When people like Government Tompolo were given that contract, we saw how effective they were. But they were sent away because they are related to the former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. It is just a matter of somebody cooking up something to make something for himself. The reason they are doing it is for money to go into people’s pocket. That contract is a dangerous thing. It is like giving Indians the free hand to run our armoury . I am not sure that contract was conceived and concluded by NIMASA” one of the angry stakeholders, said.
For his part, President, Merchant Navy Engineers, Comrade Matthew Alalade, lamented that his men are being harassed on daily basis, blaming joblessness among Nigerian indigenous seafarers as partly responsible for rising problem of pirates activities.
Against this background Alalade however called on the Federal Government to create jobs and provides more fleet for the youths
“In the Gulf of Guinea, there are lot of pirate activities now more than ever before. We don’t know why it is like that. Perhaps, this may be due to government policies that rendered youths jobless. So, the government must create jobs for the youths for this to stop. Piracy is on the increase in Nigeria now. The effort of the government to curb the activities is not yielding much fruits. Most of the mariners are afraid to sail on Nigerian waters. For the past three months now there is so much insecurity on the waters.
Commenting on the Israeli security company, he said that the Nigerian central policing system does not allow them to operate.
“Nigeria has a central policing system as against other countries where they have their different policing system.
Of recent our colleagues have reported cases of hostage-taking in Bonny which affected a foreign vessel. Also, the local vessels are not comfortable. There is fear everywhere. So far, no deaths have been reported. In the latest attack of a foreign vessel, out of the 11 crews only one person had been found. We have not had any other report about the rest of them.
“Following the increased harassment of our members, I had to write the Marine police and they have responded that they are on top of the situation. Our members have informed me that they are having a respite now. Before now, on daily basis, the police used to extort money from the mariners. Sometimes they move with boats that are not in police colour. They used to hire local boats too.
“My advice is that the government should provide jobs for the youths and provide more fleet. They should make the maritime business come alive again. The maritime business is dull now” he said.
General manager, Nigerian Inland Waterways Agency (NIWA), Mr Tayo Fadile, for instance that they have provided 12 boats that patrol the Nigerian inland waters stretching from Lokoja to Delta, River Niger Warri and Port Harcourt.
“If it is in the Nigerian local inland waters we have 12 patrol boats that move around the country nationwide. They try to monitor the inland waterways. The inland waterways are not too active because the waters are required to be dredged. For that of River Niger, we are working on patrolling that one. We have patrol boats for Onitsha, Port Harcourt and Lokoja. They patrol the waters regularly. But if it is all those ones outside the Nigerian waterways we don’t have control over that. It is Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and probably the Navy that have control over that one” he submitted.
Chairman, (Tin Can Port chapter), International Freight Forwarders Association (IFFA), Chief Patrick Chukwu, noted that if the insecurity in Nigeria persists, foreign vessels will avoid Nigeria and that will reduce throughput and development will be affected.
“It beats my imagination how the president can wake up and approve such a security contract without recourse to the National Assembly and things will move on as usual. There is a separation of powers but people do what they want. My question is, how can they continue to do this? What will be the outcome?
If the insecurity persists, foreign vessels will decide to go to neighbouring countries and that will reduce our throughput and economic sabotage will thrive. Development will reduce and investors will leave.
My advice is for the government to overhaul the security agencies in the country. That will engender new blood in the system” he suggested.
President, National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) Lucky Amiwero agreed that constant security threats on Nigerian waters will cause surcharge on freights and people will be discouraged to sail Nigerian waters.
“The problem of Nigerian waterways is that our waterways should be safe because if it is not safe, it will attract some surcharge. The freight will be high and it will discourage people from bringing ships into the country. So, we must make sure that our waterways are safe, free from priate attacks. If they (pirates) are allowed to continue with their operations people will declare our zone a war zone and apply surcharge on most of the freights. They (government) should try as much as possible to make the waterways safe. That is the issue of the navy and in conjunction with NIMASA.
Source: The Sun News Online/Hellenic Shipping news