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Countries in Gulf of Guinea region bleed as fuel smuggling, fish poaching threaten economy

… Nigeria loses billions of dollars annually

West and Central African countries situated in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) region are presently counting their losses following the high level of waterway insecurity leading to the thriving activities of fuel smugglers and fish poachers on their waters.  

Findings have shown that many criminal groups are smuggling fuel from Nigeria to neighbouring countries, and these activities are posing threat to the nation’s economy, especially based on the fact that Nigeria relies on petroleum products as major revenue earner.

Speaking at the recently held Global Maritime Security Conference (GMSC) in Abuja, Dirk Siebels, senior analyst at Risk Intelligence of Denmark, who spoke on ‘Future of Maritime Security: Trends, Emerging Threat Vectors and Capability Requirements,’ traced the link between piracy and other illegal activities on the waters including terrorism, illegal migration, weapon smuggling and marine pollution.

According to him, in April 2019, there was crew kidnap from product tanker in the region; in May 2019, a product tanker was reportedly hijacked around Lome but the ship owner was later arrested and investigated for possible involvement in fuel smuggling.

“In September, there was also an attack on fishing vessel off the coast of Cameron where two crew members were kidnapped. We have to bear in mind that combating piracy is different from fighting fuel smuggling and solving dispute between fishermen. This is why we need actionable strategies to deal with the menace,” he said.

He pointed out that countries in this region must have a coordinated effort, coupled with transparent legal regulations to enable legal operations on the sea, adding that operators should cooperate with security agencies to enforce the law.

In the area of illegal fishing, it is estimated that Nigeria, a country in the league of world’s biggest exporters of crude oil, may be losing billions of dollars to illegal fishing yearly due to the activities of fish poachers on its territorial waters.

Margaret Orakwusi, chairperson of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, told newsmen that owners of fish trawlers in Nigeria only take 40 percent of what they should be getting while 60 percent is lost to illegal fishermen.

Orakwusi, who said poachers steal the fishes in the water in a very irresponsible way, stated that these poachers also find markets for these products running into billions of dollars yearly.

“How do we sit back and allow these poachers sell their products successfully. Where are they selling the stolen products? Where are they finding the markets for the products and what banking institutions do they use without being accused of money laundering?” she questioned.

She further said that Nigerians in fishing business tries to do things the right way by having their payment done into their domiciliary account in order to tell the history of the fund.

According to her, the markets for the stolen fishes are in Europe and Asia. “It is an international conspiracy; if we are not able to face these poachers in the high sea, we should be able to force the financial institutions to be more prudent and ask questions in line with the law of money laundering.”

While listing the fishes in GoG region to include Lobsters, Prawn and Sea Cucumber, she called for capacities to arrest these poachers.

In Nigeria, she said, owners of fishing trawlers comply with international standards by analysing the water, date and freeze level and also allow the products to undergo in-house testing by the Nigerian Fishery Lab to certify their products.

 

AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE

 

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