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Promoting investor confidence in maritime sector through respect to agreement

The Nigerian maritime sector seems to be heading for another season of crisis as the sector regulators, NIMASA and the Nigerian Ports Authority, find faults in the Secure Anchorage initiative. HARRISON EDEH sought stakeholders’ views on the implementation of the initiative.

The priority placed on safety and security of ships, cargo and personnel by the global shipping community cannot be too stressed.  Hence implementing measures to enhance security without impeding the timely flow of legitimate commerce is critical for any nation that depends largely on the operations of the blue economy.

According to the World Shipping Council (WSC), one of the greatest security threats to the maritime industry globally is piracy.

Buttressing the danger of the issue, Oceans Beyond Piracy, a firm dedicated to the fight against piracy, recently disclosed that the shipping industry spends around $1 billion every year on private security.

Similarly, in 2012, ABC News, an American News media, reported that about 50 percent of ships in the Indian Ocean (an area high in pirate incidents) had armed guards. They also reported that a lot of former United States (U.S.) military personnel were joining companies or creating companies to provide security for ships navigating these dangerous areas.

By implication, the concept of involving the private sector in tackling this menace is fast becoming a global phenomenon.

Nigeria, as a nation, is not exonerated from this maritime risk as it is being reported that the Gulf of Guinea has become a security threat to the industry.

Evidence abound that around 2007, piracy in the country peaked. The result was a drastic reduction in the country’s crude production. Consequently, some of the multinational companies operating in the sector were on the verge of pulling out. Similarly, platforms, vessels and ships were almost avoiding Nigerian ports because of the activities of these criminals.

Investigations conducted by this newspaper revealed that at the height of these critical challenges of piracy, armed robbery at the sea and proliferation of illegal arms importation at the Gulf of Guinea, the need for a local solution to the situation became imperative.

The Nigerian Navy, which is charged with the statutory responsibility of protecting the nation’s maritime territory in collaborations with the IOCs, set up a steering committee which involved stakeholders in the maritime industry, including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) to proffer lasting solutions to the security within the Lagos Harbour Approach.

According to a reliable source, an indigenous security firm, OMS, was invited to a meeting with the steering committee. The main decision reached by the committee was the creation of fresh demarcations for better governance of the sea area.

These demarcation includes Traffic Separations Scheme (TSS), Ship-To-Ship transfer operations, (STS) Area and the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA).

Appropriate authorities like NIMASA and NPA then went ahead to publish the steering committee’s resolutions in some national dailies as Marine Notice.

According to a recent publication signed by the chairman of OMS, Idahosa Wells Okunbo, it was based on the public advertisement that his company was encouraged to participate in the venture of providing security for the Lagos Harbour Approach using the SAA model.

Meanwhile investigation revealed that purpose of clarity the designated place for SAA operation was defined as 10 nautical miles outwards of the Fairway Buoy.

And by implication, the specified area is outside the NPA jurisdictional purview, which informed sourced described as beginning from the Fairway Buoy, inwards.

Having defined the areas of operations of the SAA, OMS, according to its chairman, was encouraged to undertake “to procure platform to be utilised within the SAA and went further to develop and submit a business plan of 20 years for return on investment to the Nigerian Navy.”

According to him, the document was described by the Nigerian Navy as a laudable initiative and was highly commended as a positive contribution of the private sector in support of government efforts to make Lagos waters safe and secure for legitimate business to strive.

Elaborating on how the initiative was consolidated, Okunbo stated that upon submission of the business plan, “The Nigerian Navy, subsequently, informed the NPA of its collaboration with OMS on the SAA project and stated that the project compliments the Navy’s efforts to secure our maritime space and gives added comfort to operations in the region.”

Corroborating Okunbo’s narrative, an industry expert who is aware of how the project was conceptualised told our reporter that the SAA initiative was a strategic decision by the Nigerian Navy, the IOCs, and other stakeholders, which included the NPA and NIMASA, to tackle the menace and provide a lifeline for Nigeria.

According to the source, OMS was invited to participate in the noble ideal because of its past records in securing crude oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.

Speaking of how it all started, he said IOCs were favourably disposed to the funding of the Nigerian Navy, bearing in mind the fact that they are business entities that have other responsibilities. Stressing that in the face of the circumstances prevailing then, where the IOCs were sufficiently threatened to consider exiting the country, all the industry stakeholders approved of the SAA modus operandi.

His words, “The Navy did not have adequate platforms or logistics to tackle the dangerous criminals. Kidnapping was soaring. Demand for ransom was getting out of hand.

The nation’s image was at stake. Relevant stakeholders were begging the IOCs not to depart Nigeria. And then, suddenly, out of the blue, the IOCs came up with the idea of an SAA.”

“The only problem was where to find the private investors, who would be willing or adventurous enough to procure relevant vessels costing about $3m each, to hand them over to the Nigerian Navy, without any insurance cover.

“But, one company called OMS or something like that opted to take the risk. It was a stupid risk to invest about $3million in each vessel and leave it to operate uninsured. It looked stupid. But I guess it is now paying off. And that explains why Nigerians, in our characteristic greedy nature, want to either kill it now, or put sand into it”, he explained further.

“Individually, we hailed them and the idea of secure anchorage area. But I think it was the NIMASA that first hailed the idea as a corporate breakthrough”, our source noted further, explaining that “NIMASA also endorsed the emergence of the OMS–Navy accord, via an advert. He highlighted that the SAA would be a ‘spherically shaped‘ off-shore Lagos 5nm, located with a centre-point  at Longitude 06° 17’ 30’’; and Latitude 003° 12’ 00”, located about 10 nautical miles southwest, before entering Nigeria, through the Fairway Buoy. The agency also, in the advert, emphatically acknowledged that the SAA exists to “serve as an additional security service for provision of dedicated 24/7 watch, to vessels seeking extra protection while at anchorage offshore Lagos”.

Meanwhile industry stakeholder said recent opposition to the SAA by the NPA is uncalled for describing it as an unnecessary distraction.

The NPA in October issued Marine Notice to maritime stakeholders on a proposal to discontinue OMS operation of SAA.

Some stakeholders have expressed surprise at the sudden change of position of NPA wondering if the decision is in the interest of the nation’s maritime industry.

An executive director with one of the IOCs operating in the country said he could not understand why an issue which was generally agreed to, by both the NIMASA and the Nigerian Ports Authority, to ensure adequate security of the Lagos maritime so as to guarantee formidable protection for foreign vessels, at no cost to the government or any of its agencies, has suddenly become engulfed in controversy.

On his part, president, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Increase Uche, has cautioned against the proposed sudden dismantling of the SAA. According to him, those calling for the scrapping of the SAA project must provide a superior alternative, stressing that absence of such would lead to a resurgence of maritime crimes, attract higher insurance cost of vessels coming into Lagos, and further tarnish the good image of Nigeria.

He, therefore, warned that dismantling the SAA may result in a new era of spiralling inflation, or subsequent diversion of cargoes to ports of neighbouring countries, whenever government suspends the current land borders closure policy.

Uche said, “We have seen what the industry had passed through and we do not want to go back to the old order. We do not want our cargoes to be exposed to criminals. So, we are appealing to the Nigerian Ports Authority to rescind the decision to dismantle the SAA.”

On allegations that OMS was using NPA’s three vessels to make money for itself, OMS general manager, Business Development and Government Relations, Chuma Adogu (rtd), who debunked the claim, described it as a deliberate attempt to misinform the public.

He stated that although NPA provided three vessels for the Nigerian Navy, none of the vessels is in the secure anchorage area.

“All the vessels that are used in the secure anchorage are owned by the OMS, donated to the Navy. Like I told you, the relationship we started in 2007 made us to acquire vessels that are domiciled with the Navy, painted in Navy colours; an outsider may not know the difference, but we know, the Navy knows,” he said.

“It is not true that we are using government asset to make money and the money is being directed to private pocket. It is very untrue. It is because people do not know this arrangement.”

Expatiating on the company’s activities, he said, “Our relationship is for security services, which NPA does not have a mandate for. Who has mandate for security? Nigerian Navy, not even NIMASA, because NIMASA still refers to Nigerian Navy; and the Nigerian Navy deemed  it fit to collaborate with us, because they have approval from the government to do that. It is a collaboration that didn’t just start at the secure anchorage area.

“Before now, any of these three things happens: the vessels stay outside our territorial waters, where pirates can’t reach them 200 miles away, and wait for allocation of berth; others who don’t want to stay that far come in with mercenaries and thereby breech our security. Even that option can be costly too.

“Others who don’t want to get involved about that simply divert to neighbouring ports, which amounts to a huge loss to the economy of Nigeria. The idea of a secure anchorage area stopped all the three via payment of a small fee; and they are happy about it.

“Maybe the argument is in the name, perhaps, if we remove the ‘anchorage’ there, maybe the NPA will stop laying claims to it. May be, that’s where the misunderstanding is coming from,” he explained.

However, while NPA is stilling nursing the idea of dismantling the SAA project, there is evidence that the collaboration between OMS and the Nigerian Navy has significantly improved the nation’s maritime domain.

As highlighted by Okunbo in his publication recently, since the commencement of SAA in 2013, the area under its coverage has enjoyed a 100 percent success rate as there has not been any successful pirate attack on any vessel utilising the services.

“The success story has made the SAA a comfort zone and proffered location for captains of vessels coming to Lagos. It is a security solution that is working. As of today, the SAA provides security for 26 vessels and three others conducting STS operations,” he stated.

Wisdom demands stakeholders’ intervention to ensure security is given priority in order to sustain peace in the region.

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