Back in December, 2018 the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman made a passionate clarion call on all Ports Facility Security Officers (PFSOs) to step up their efforts and remain ever vigilant. The aim is to curb high level of insecurity with regards to sea piracy in Nigeria’s Maritime economic sphere. She further urged the PFSOs to pay special attention to intelligence gathering and sharing of information with other security agencies at the ports. If this is carried out and sustained it would enhance effective performance of their duties. Bala-Usman made this call in her goodwill message at the 2018 edition of the annual conference of the PFSOs which took place in Calabar, Cross River.
As subsequent events have revealed, there has been a 36 per cent reduction in attacks by sea pirates in the Nigerian waters in the First Quarter of 2019 with reports of 14 of such attacks compared to 22 as reported in the same period of 2018. The report came from the International Maritime Bureau(IMB), a specialized department of the International Chamber of Commerce. The encouraging success recorded has been attributed to the increased efforts by the Nigerian Navy, working in tandem with the NPA as well as PFSOs for their rapid response to vital information released to the Agency.
Sequel to this positive development in the security of the maritime sector, importers, exporters and ship owners are upbeat about a possible reduction in freight charges, war risk insurance premium and other surcharges imposed on Nigerian-bound cargo. This would become realistic if pirate attacks on Nigerian waters continue to decrease. According to an earlier media report, one Adewale Ishola, a top player in the marine sector, insists that such reduction in sea piracy is capable of boosting shipping business in Nigeria. If sustained, international shipping companies that have been raising freight charges and introducing surcharges on imported cargoes would be convinced to reduce them.
According to Hadiza Bala Usman, the MD, of NPA the war risk insurance premium has translated into high cost of cargo importation into the country’s seaports as importers, who pay such premium also increase the market price of goods. For instance, two shipping lines, Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM operating in Nigeria recently introduced a new surcharge called “Peak Season Surchage’(PSS) on all cargoes originating from anywhere in the world. And that has to do with those coming into Tin-Can,Apapa sea ports in Lagos as well as Onne port in Rivers state.
Piracy is considered as one of the most disturbing issues even in the 21stCentury global community. As maritime operators and analysts explain, the cost of piracy covers a wide spectrum that affects human, economic, environmental and political landscape of several nations blessed with vast coastal lines. When and if left unchecked it has direct threat to peace, security and the socio-economic development of the affected countries as well as regions.
According to un Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “the epidemic of piracy poses a serious threat to international peace and security and has destabilising effects on international navigation and maritime trade. Listed amongst the top regions for piracy today are the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea, the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea. All these regions are vital shipping routes, crucial for global trade”.
With specific regards to Nigeria, sea piracy has become an increasing challenge in the Gulf of Guinea region with both the frequency of piracy attacks and the level of physical violence against seafarers increasing in recent years. Cumulatively, it has been responsible for the nation’s parlous economy as over US$2.74 billion was paid by the country over the past four years.
In 2018 alone, freight costs were reportedly increased six times! That came with fears that insurance also escalated insecurity traceable to the challenge of piracy. The Ocean Beyond Piracy (OBP) in a report claimed that the economic cost of piracy to Nigeria has been on the increase since 2014 reaching over $818.1 million in 2017. The report also revealed that about $213.7 million was spent to contract maritime security personnel protecting vessels in the region. Similarly, the Gulf Region’s spending on law enforcement and naval patrols increased by $13.2 million in 2017.
Additionally, 1,726 seafarers were affected in 2016 even as 100 crewmembers were taken hostage. As a result, shipping companies patronizing Nigeria and other West African ports were incurring additional expenses. Sea piracy has compelled them to engage the services of private security guards, even as though the Federal Government noted that such violates Nigeria’s constitution. According to OBP breakdown of costs, coastal states incurred personnel costs of about $213.7 million; affiliated escorts, $9.4 million; and private patrols, $134.9 million per year. The report claimed that Nigeria spends about $6.6 million yearly to protect its security anchorage area. So, what is the way forward?
Legal and policy statements may not be considered adequate to combat the menace of sea piracy. Nigeria, being the head of the Gulf of Guinea Commission has to rise to exhibiting its leadership role, more by practical partnerships than rhetoric. That is the opinion of maritime experts who also insist that sustaining collaborative efforts amongst the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA), Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air force and the Nigerian Army with the Nigerian Ports Authority acting as the credible catalyst would swing the pendulum away from sea piracy.
The Federal Government should deploy the platforms which the country acquired under its Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Global West Vessel Specialists Limited. That is especially so for the Danish fast armored boats, which the company purchased for the country. If not enough, more could be bought.
According to researchers, Daud Hassan and Sayed Hasan writing for the online version of African Journal of Legal Studies(August, 2017) with the title: ‘Effectiveness of the Current Regimes to Combat Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea: An Evaluation’ it is essential to apply an integrated multidimensional approach. This will strengthen maritime security while also effectively addressing the principal causes of piracy embedded in the economic, social and political conditions of the region. These include poor governance, corruption, unemployment and poverty. There is also an urgent requirement for cooperation and coordination at the regional and international levels.
In addition, it should build regional maritime capacity, enhance maritime domain surveillance and ensure compliance with the best management practices by the shipping industry.
With the Usman-led NPA showing that collaborative efforts and prompt actions taken by the armed forces on sensitive information gathered could reduce sea piracy, the time to up the frontal battle against sea piracy is now.