The global community is increasingly acknowledging the accelerated transformation of the country’s maritime sector since the last three years. IKENNA ASOMUGHA writes:
Gauging the mood of players and stakeholders across the Nigerian maritime industry, there is a generally optimistic view that an unprecedented transformative spirit and pragmatism have, indeed, kicked in. Answers are rapidly being found to previously debilitating issues and the effects are becoming increasingly visible.
The changes are taking place across all levels of the maritime industry, from safety and security, to financial administration, ocean health, and maritime labour relations.
With the recent flood of commendations by international stakeholders, just before Nigeria hosted the Global Maritime Security Conference (GMSC) in October last year, it is obvious that the country’s maritime sector is in the middle of a profound transformation. The GMSC was held between October 7 and 9 last year in Abuja to seek coordinated solution to the issue of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea maritime domain.
But just before the conference, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) sponsored a Maritime Security and Facilitation (MSF) meeting in London, chaired by the Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, who led other officials of the United Nations specialised maritime regulatory agency. The meeting had in attendance the management of NIMASA, led by the Director-General, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, as well as representatives of Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO), Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), and President of Chevron Worldwide, Mr. Mark Ross.
The attendees, comprising key players in the international oil and gas as well as shipping businesses, praised NIMASA’s transformational initiatives and efforts to ensure security in the Gulf of Guinea. They also pledged their support.
The general tone of the meeting was one of objective commendation, intelligent inquiry, wholehearted encouragement, and unequivocal optimism as the maritime industry under NIMASA’s watch built on better profitability prospects into the future.
The IMO Secretary-General called on the stakeholder to collaboratively and frontally deal with the challenges in the Gulf of Guinea. Lim acknowledged Nigeria’s efforts to tackle insecurity in the region and pledged IMO’s support for the country.
Trying to muster the world behind Nigeria’s effort to secure the Gulf of Guinea, Lim stated, “We at the IMO are very much interested. It’s gladdening to note that something is being done about the issue of security in the Gulf of Guinea. Something is happening much more than ever before. We want to cruise together. I think we can make a big difference with collaboration from all stakeholders.
“The global maritime security conference in Abuja is also very important. It is a groundbreaking conference to chart a way forward for securing the
Sam Megwa of OCIMF, who had led a team to Nigeria last year, spoke in a similar vein. Megwa acknowledged steps by the Nigerian government to stem piracy and maritime crimes. He urged NIMASA to put in place appropriate strategies to ensure sustainability of the security projects.
“Our visit to Nigeria was quit inspiring. The most important thing is that Nigeria has acknowledged that there is a challenge and actions are being taken now,” he stated. “NIMASA was open to us as we saw all equipment for the C4i, among others. The Agency is doing so much but emphasis must be placed on sustainability of the project through proper governance. All we want is improved security situation in the Gulf of Guinea.”
It was in pursuit of improved security on the country’s territorial waters up to the Gulf of Guinea that Nigeria hosted the global security conference from October 7 to 9 last year. Themed, “Managing and Securing Our Waters,” GMSC 2019 was a high-level meeting of world maritime, shipping, and oil and gas stakeholders meant to facilitate a clearer understanding of the challenges of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea region and develop tailored solutions as well as coordinate efforts at strengthening regional and international collaborations to eliminate maritime threats in the region.
The conference came out with deliberate strategies to deal with maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) and create a conducive environment for business and leisure. It resolved that there should be conscious efforts by the GoG states to establish strong legal and institutional frameworks for tackling the security issues in the region. The conference called for synergy among the GoG states and their international partners in the war against piracy and other maritime crimes.
The GMSC also resolved, “GoG States and the international community should put mechanisms in place to ensure that resources that are illegally harvested/explored in the GoG, including stolen oil and Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishery, are intentionally banned, as was the case with the ‘blood diamonds’.”
The security conference was part of a broad reform agenda, which Dakuku initiated at the inception of his tenure in 2016 to reposition and restructure NIMASA under five pillars, namely, Survey, Inspection and Certification Transformation Programme; Environment, Security, Emergency Search and Rescue Transformation Initiative; Digital Strategy Reforms; Capacity Building and Promotional Initiatives; and Structural and Cultural Reforms.
Similarly, in pursuance of the goal of maritime security, Nigeria recently became the first country in West/Central Africa to have a distinct antipiracy law. The Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act 2019, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 24, 2019, provides a legal framework for the prosecution of piracy and other maritime crimes through the country’s maritime security enforcement agencies: the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA. It fulfills a critical international requirement for standalone legislation on piracy, as against the approach of using the Maritime Operations Coordinating Board Amendment law to criminalise piracy. The drafting of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill in 2012 had been facilitated by NIMASA, in collaboration with the IMO.
The law gives effect to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, and the International Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Navigation (SUA), 1988, and its Protocols.
Nigeria is also playing a leading role in furthering international maritime law, with the ratification of many conventions. The country has ratified 40 conventions passed by IMO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) covering Maritime Safety, Labour, and Marine Environment. Nineteen of the conventions have been domesticated by way of regulation, adoption or incorporation under the Merchant Shipping Act of 2007.
In addition, NIMASA has forwarded to the executive arm of government for ratification six IMO instruments. They include the Hong Kong International Convention for safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships 2009; International Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties, 1969, and the Protocol relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Pollution by Substances other than Oil (Intervention Protocol 1973); International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F); and 1996 Protocol on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims (LLMC).
Others are the 2002 Protocol relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea (PAL) and Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.
NIMASA is working with the Federal Ministry of Transportation under the auspices of an Inter-Ministerial Committee to realise the ratification of these instruments.
Besides the legal and institutional mechanisms, a comprehensive maritime security architecture, the Integrated Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, popularly called Deep Blue Project, is being deployed to boost stakeholders’ confidence in the Nigerian maritime environment. It is a multipronged project involving the training of personnel from the military, security services, and NIMASA; establishment of a Command, Control, Computer Communication, and Intelligence systems centre (C4i) for data collection and information sharing to facilitate targeted enforcement; and acquisition of assets, such as Special Mission Vessels (SMVs), fast intervention vessels and surveillance aircraft.
Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, told participants of the C4i Intelligence System Operator Course for the Deep Blue Project in March, 209 in Lagos, “The length of our coastline, our exclusive economic zone, as well as our strategic location on a major shipping route, which is the Gulf of Guinea, means that we cannot afford illegalities, such as piracy, oil theft, sea robbery, and other crimes.
“The Deep Blue Project is a conscious effort towards addressing illegality in our territorial waters and, indeed, the Gulf of Guinea.”
According to Dakuku, “The Deep Blue Project is geared towards building a formidable integrated surveillance and security architecture that will comprehensively combat maritime crime and criminalities in Nigeria’s waterways up to the Gulf of Guinea.”
The Commander of DB Lagos, one of the SMVs, Navy Captain Maksun Mohammed, said the vessels would be a game changer in the fight against piracy and other maritime crimes. Mohammed stated, “We have had hijack cases on our waters and more often than not, the reason they are successful is because they are beyond reach. But with this craft, that is not going to be an issue anymore, because it is either we launch fast interceptor boats that are capable of attaining the speed of about 55 nauts – no vessel can beat that vessel out at sea – or we put our special forces on the aircraft and send them out to the target and capture the ship.
“This vessel is going to be a game changer based on its capabilities. We are looking forward to going into operations soon.”
Mohammed added, “The vessel is highly sophisticated and highly computerised. That is why there will be a rigorous training process before we launch into operation. The training will be overseen by experts with inept knowledge about the operations of the ship. There will be a lot of emphasis on training so that we can have sufficient competence to operate this craft the way we should.”
He said the vessels were equipped with state-of-the-art intelligence gathering gadgets that could receive information and respond in the quickest time possible.
The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has scored Nigeria high on efforts to tackle maritime insecurity and smuggling of hard drugs in the GoG region. The representative of the UNODC Country Director for Nigeria, Mr. Oliver Stolpe, stated last year in Abuja, “We need to recognise the things that have been done right, that is the Suppression of Piracy Act that was passed by the Nigerian government, which for the first time gives a comprehensive framework to tackle the issue of piracy and, more broadly, maritime crimes. We are on a good path.
“The big issue now is the follow up to that, which is the prosecutions.”
Asomugha is a Lagos-based Business analyst