• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Storm in the Gulf


It is a turbulent storm, one that is capable of crippling the economy of coastal states, littoral states in strict maritime parlance. And landlocked states too, which like their coastal states counterparts, have economies that are linked to the sea. Nigeria is a littoral state, rich in oil and gas, and so share largely in the turmoil.

Yes, it does and very vastly of course, being a dominant state among the states that make up the Gulf of Guinea, the turbulent Gulf in question. We are discussing West Africa geo-maritime and the menace of pirates and armed robbers – pirates who storm cargo-carrying vessels on the high seas, hold vessels and crew hostage and ask for huge sums of money to get them released; armed robbers who engage in illegal crude oil bunkering within states territorial waters – within states’ 12-nautical mile range.

There is need for a definition here to drive home the message.

Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines piracy in such a way that it is possible only on the high seas, outside the 12- nautical mile range, whereas criminal actions within territorial waters are classified as armed robbery against ships. The difference here is one of jurisdiction.

Beyond the 12-nautical mile from the shore of the coastal state, piracy is a universal crime and any state can establish jurisdiction to prosecute pirates, as states have an obligation to intervene. And within the 12- nautical mile limit, responsibility lies with the coastal states.

The Gulf of Guinea is a vast expanse of water, stretching almost 6000, and kilometres from Senegal to Angola but largely made up of West Africa – ECOWAS states. West Africa is made up of three landlocked and 13 coastal states – largely Francophone states. The region’s population is 250 million and Nigeria accounts for 170 million, 68 percent of the region’s population.

But big Nigeria, which accounts for much of the oil wealth of the Gulf of Guinea, is responsible for 54 percent of piracy and armed robbery in the region, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs-Chatham House Conference on West African Maritime Security, revealed recently in Lagos.

Chatham House has been the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs since 1920. Its mission is to be the source of a world-leading source of independent analysis, informed debate and influential ideas on how to build a prosperous and a secured world for all. The challenge in the Gulf is therefore very much at the doorstep of Nigeria.

Threat of piracy, armed robbery

Freedom Onuoha, research fellow, Centre for strategic research and Studies National Defence College Abuja, did a fine tooth comb presentation of the challenge at the Lagos conference. Citing the latest Independent Maritime Bureau (IMB) report, he said it indicated a fall in world piracy by 35 percent and that a total of 66 incidents were recorded worldwide in the first three months of 2013, compared to 102 incidents reported for the corresponding period in 2012.

But the report listed the Gulf of Guinea as an “area of concern” with 15 incidents recorded, including three hijackings. And Nigeria accounted for 11 incidents in the region. Of particular importance is the threat of oil piracy.

Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs)

Onuoha recalled two recent incidents in Nigeria: 15 Russian sailors of te MV Myre Seadiver were detained by Nigerian navy for illegally bringing 14 AK-47 rifles with 3,643 rounds of ammunition into Nigeria in October 2012; a British gun-runner, Gar5y Hyde was jailed seven years for arranging the sale of 80,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 32 million rounds of ammunition to Nigeria. He oversaw the over 800,000 pounds shipment of tens of thousands of SALWs from China to Africa in 2007.

Illegal fishing

According to Onuoha, global losses are estimated to be between US$9 billion and US$24 billion annually representing between 11 and 26 million tonnes of fish – between 10 and 22 percent of total fisheries production. West Africa waters are deemed to have the highest levels of Illegal Unreported and unregulated Fishing (IUU) in the world, representing 37 percent of the region’s catch. It is said that Nigeria loses over US$30 million yearly over poaching.

The consequences of IUU, argued Onuoha, include revenue losses to states; compromises food security; undermines the livelihoods of coastal communities; hinders the recovery of fish stocks; and the marine environment.

Maritime security

He drew attention to the importance of the West Africa maritime space, which, according to him, is poised to acquire an increasing strategic relevance in global energy calculus on account of its large hydrocarbon deposits and future prospects.

He was quick to point out that this strategic credential is further reinforced by the persistent insecurity in the Middle East, the geographic proximity of the sub-region to Europe and America and the availability of abundant but yet untapped proven reserves of crude oil and natural gas in the maritime domain.

He gave an overview of the strategic elements of Nigeria’s maritime environment as follows: There are, in Nigeria today, over 5,700 oil wells, 112 flow stations, 16 gas plants, 126 production platforms, 6 Floating Production Storage Offloading (FPSO), the BONGA a deep offshore production platform with a production capacity of 200,000 barrels per day is currently valued at US$4 billion.

He argued that the recent discovery of oil and gas in Benin, Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana would inevitably attract huge infrastructural development in the sub-region. “It is therefore best imagined what would happen to these facilities, many of which could be isolated in the deep offshore area, if they are not adequately protected taking into cognizance the current and emerging security challenges within the gulf of Guinea sub- region.

Threats in the region

As bright as the future might seem, there are numerous threats in the West African maritime environment that would adversely impact on the present and future development of the sub-region. Some of the threats include poor maritime culture, poverty, sea blindness, sea robbery and piracy, weak regulatory institutions and legal framework on account of the non-domestication of international rules and conventions acceded to by governments, crude oil thefts, poaching, drug and human trafficking and proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

But he does not believe these threats are insurmountable. Thus this is the reason according to him, for the clarion call for constructive, proactive, sustainable and holistic maritime security architecture. This, he considered would ensure a secure and safe maritime environment for optimal exploration and exploitation of the abundant maritime resources that is germane for socio-economic growth and development of West Africa within the con text of extant ECOWAS instruments. For the navy chief, if West Africa desires development, it is only logical that we place maritime security on the top rungs of our national security priorities,” he said.

What Nigeria is currently doing?

Promulgation of a Strategic Guidance O (SG-01) in October 2012 by the Nigerian Navy provides a holistic operational framework that clearly defines the end state with properly articulated ways and means for the actualisation of Nigerian Navy’s mandate, taking cognizance of the dynamics of the operating of the operating environment.

The main pillar of the operational dictum of the Nigerian Navy as enunciated in the SG-01 is anchored on a ‘Trinity of Actions’ which encapsulates surveillance , response initiative and enforcement considered pivotal variables for effective maritime security. The Nigerian Navy is striving to increase existing Regional maritime Domain Awareness capability through surveillance systems located along Nigeria’s coastline in order to improve total awareness of the environment.

The Nigerian Navy has arrested well over 40 vessels engaged in illegal activities in the nation’s maritime environment in the last 8 months.

Plans are on to buy additional ships including offshore patrol vessels for enhanced operational capability. Beyond these efforts at national level, a deliberate policy of collective maritime mechanism for the ECOWAS sub-region is being pursued. A good example of this is the Nigerian Navy/Beninese Navy partnership codenamed Operation Prosperity against menace of piracy in the region. Establishment of maritime zones in response to Resolution 2018 and 2019 of the United Nations – ECOWAS created the Pilot Zone D comprising Benin, Niger, Nigeria and Togo with the aim of creating a legal framework that would serve as a blueprint for other zones.

Challenges in the Gulf 

(Excerpts from the report on the conference on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea held at Chatham house London in December 2012)

Oil theft and illegal ‘artisanal’ refining in the Niger Delta are increasing problems, causing significant environmental and economic devastation. These activities are not new, but since the end of the militant crisis in 2009 their scale has grown beyond recognition as thousands of demobilized militants have turned to crime as a source of income.

By mid-2012, the Nigerian government estimated as many as 400,000 barrels of oil were being stolen each day, costing the country up to $1 billion per month in lost revenues.

Drawing on his experience of community engagement, Tony Attah of Shell spoke about the oil industry’s perspective on these issues. He started by highlighting the extent of the problem, stating that it is a highly organized criminal phenomenon involving a parallel industry with a developed supply chain and growing sophistication.

That it involved trained engineers returning each night to siphon oil, and boatyard operators who helped construct and supply barges to the thieves to transport crude oil around the creeks; a small amount of the stolen oil remained in the local market, although rudimentary refinement techniques resulted in up to 80 percent of this oil being dumped into the creeks; the refined element of the oil that remained in the local market was used to fuel small generators used by the local population.

But the vast majority of the oil was exported; it was taken to larger tankers waiting offshore, which transported it to refineries outside the country. These transfers were conducted out at sea, making them difficult to detect.

Attah identified the underlying problem as being the widespread poverty and unemployment in the Niger Delta, which made crime an attractive option despite the high risks.

However, he said those involved in the Niger Delta were just the foot soldiers. The networks were orchestrated by individuals both inside and outside Nigeria, running an industry worth billions of dollars, the foundations of which were corruption and violence. The proceeds of this industry entered the global financial system, as well as funding other criminal structures.

He emphasized that the impact on the legitimate oil industry put an enormous strain on staff and operations, diverting time and resources to battle the consequences of criminal activities.

While there have been claims that Shell is voicing concerns on the environmental effect of the illicit oil trade to divert attention away from its own failings, Attah asserted that this was definitely not the case. He said that Shell had invited the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to set up an independent scientific panel to advice on conservation and spill-site restoration, especially recommending new technologies and methodology, and these efforts were already delivering results.

For Attah, the solution required coordinated action, both at the national and local level inside Nigeria, and at a regional and international level outside. It required detection and the collection of evidence, military or police intervention, arrests and effective judicial action.

Despite domestic responses, little has been done at the international level. Attah argued that regional security structures and international governments needed to start using the available satellite technology to track and intercept illicit cargoes of stolen oil to and from the Gulf of Guinea.

Investment in the power and refinement sectors was also necessary to provide fuel and power to local populations in the area, reducing their demand for illicit fuel.

Given that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea was largely related to hydrocarbon theft, one should ask who was ‘not noticing’ the 4,500 tons of stolen crude oil entering the market.

There are obligations to implement initiatives such as the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, aimed at making ports more effective, cutting down on theft in ports and preventing terrorism threats. There are also environmental concerns given the appalling statistics on pollution, which is killing off the fish and minimizing the potential for tourism in West Africa.