In recent years, the Nigerian maritime domain and the entire Gulf of Guinea region, which drives export of crude oil from one of the world’s largest exporter was known globally as major maritime security flashpoints, portraying it as a hotspot for maritime crimes.
Then and even up to date, the region, which houses the Nigerian territorial waters accounts for the highest pirate attacks recorded globally on a quarterly basis.
This was such that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) always urges ships and crew transiting the Gulf of Guinea to remain at alert and not let their guard down following reports of kidnapping of crews and hijacking of ships.
For instance, IMB in its latest report disclosed that the Gulf of Guinea accounted for nearly half, about 43 percent of all reported piracy incidents in the first three months of 2021.
Given this situation, countries within the Gulf of Guinea region including Nigeria and trading partners lost close to $3 billion to piracy and other maritime-related crimes in three years, 2016 to 2019, according to Muhammed Ladan, director-general of the Nigerian Institute of Advance Legal Studies.
The growing incident of piracy, kidnapping, and armed robbery on Nigerian territorial waters have continued to dent the image of the country in the global community, Ladan noted.
Worried by the developments, a bi-ministerial collaboration of the Federal Ministries of Defence and Transportation, as well as the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) developed a maritime security architecture comprising all military and security services as well as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) with the aim of building a crime-free environment for a shipping business to thrive.
In line with this, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in 2017 approved the sum of $195 million dollars for the execution of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure framework is popularly known as the Deep Blue Project.
This project, which was conceived by the Ministry of Transportation under the leadership of Rotimi Amaechi as the minister was to be handled by Homeland Security International (HLSI), an Israeli firm, for the purpose of tackling piracy, sea robbery, kidnapping, oil theft, smuggling, illegal trafficking of drugs and other related maritime crimes on Nigeria’s territorial waters and its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to the Gulf of Guinea region.
It was expected that the project would enable the deployment of assets such as two Special Mission Vessels, 17 Fast Interceptor Boats, two Special Mission Aircraft, three helicopters, four unmanned aerial vehicles and 16 armoured vehicles for tackling maritime insecurity.
It also involves training of field and technical operatives drawn from the various strata of the security services including Nigerian Navy, Airforce, Nigerian Army and the NIMASA as well as the establishment of a command and control centre for data collection and information sharing to aid targeted enforcement.
Against this backdrop, NIMASA in August 2019, commissioned the Command, Control, Computer Communication and Intelligence (C4i) centre built at the NIMASA-owned Nigerian Maritime Resource Development Centre (NMRDC), Kirikiri. The centre equipped with alert setting capabilities, Coastal Automatic Identification System (AIS), and Satellite Automatic Identification System (SAT-AIS) signals, operates in liaison with some international security networks to enable access to a database on vessel movement.
The C4i centre also acts as the nerve centre for operations and workflow management for all platforms under the Deep Blue Project.
In addition, NIMASA also acquired and deployed some of the equipment including antennas for special mission vessel, drones, weapon site, CPR kit, special mission vessels, satellite communication centre, two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), 17 fast interceptor boats, 15 armoured vehicles, and two special mission vessels and helicopters.
Today, June 10, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to finally launch the Deep Blue Project in Lagos and industry close watchers have made recommendations on ways to enable the project to achieve its objectives.
For the Deep Blue Project to succeed, Mitch Thomas and Archie O’Devlin, Dryad Global analysts believed that: “The launch will see Nigeria consolidate its role as the leading force in fighting piracy offshore throughout the region. However, it comes at a time when the European Union has recently launched its Coordinated Maritime Presence initiative which is soon to be expanded with a Danish frigate. This indicates that extra-territorial states with interests in the region are beginning to shoulder some of the responsibility due to a shortfall in collective responsibility of Gulf of Guinea littoral states.”
Continuing, Dryad analysts believe that: “With mounting international pressure on Nigeria and the wider Gulf of Guinea states to facilitate greater security within the maritime domain, it is vital that projects like the DBP are evaluated against their potential for success as a framework contributing to wider regional security rather than at a merely national level. Further still, it is vital to look at the evolution of risk within the Gulf of Guinea to understand how effective such a framework may be in delivering long term sustainable security to mariners throughout the region.”
According to them, the investment in the C4i centre will likely give Nigeria greater capacity to develop a reactive posture in response to developing incidents and coordinate activity with neighbouring states while its political investment onshore will likely result in a greater focus on maritime domain awareness, and thus, leading to a reduction in ‘sea blindness’ that has hampered efforts to date.
For it to succeed in addressing piracy throughout the Gulf of Guinea, littoral states in the region must effectively and collectively respond to the onshore and offshore drivers of piracy in addition to strengthening regional frameworks and providing a system of collectivized security.
Also, regional cooperation with frameworks such as the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum (GOG-MCF/SHADE) and ECOWAS, remain necessary. Without this cooperation, pooling of resources and consideration of how regional responses might be harnessed to promote region-wide, land-based counter-piracy initiatives, piracy will continue to plague the Gulf of Guinea.
Meanwhile, Nigeria as a signatory to the legally binding Lomé Charter should be committed to putting in place measures that address Chapter 2, Article 5 of the Lomé Charter, which recommends that parties must put in place measures that “create productive jobs and eliminate extreme poverty”.
This Charter also advocates for stronger social cohesion through equitable policy implementation. This is because failure to address the complex socio-economic and governmental issues that are widespread within Nigeria would likely hamper the objective and effectiveness Deep Blue Project.
“For the DBP to be able to claim success, Nigeria must achieve more than simply driving piracy into neighbouring waters, it must ensure that the current areas of the southern Niger Delta that are allowing Nigerian pirates the freedom of movement to mount and sustain complex kidnap for ransom operations are themselves secured and further still, the conditions within those areas that drive individuals towards piracy are addressed accordingly,” Dryad advised.