Nigeria has sustained its exit from the list of countries with unsafe waters for the second time in a row since the deployment of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, also known as the Deep Blue project.
This shows Nigeria’s water, which used to be a hotspot for piracy and other criminal activities, is gradually regaining its image among the global shipping community, given a significant reduction in the number of recorded pirate attacks since 2022.
“The Deep Blue initiative of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) under the current director general is excellent,” Abdulkadir Ahmed, managing director/CEO of the NLNG Shipping and Marine Services Limited, told BusinessDay.
According to him, the success of the project can be seen in the recent removal of Nigeria from the list of maritime countries defined as high-risk areas.
According to the September 2023 report of the International Bargaining Forum, Nigeria is not on the list of countries designated as warlike nations that are unsafe for cargo ships and their crew.
Four countries in the Gulf of Guinea region whose waters are rated as unsafe for ships and their crew are Liberia, Ivory Coast, Angola and Namibia.
Launched in 2021 under the leadership of the then President Muhammadu Buhari, the $195 million Deep Blue Project enabled the NIMASA to acquire and deploy sophisticated maritime security assets for the effective patrol of Nigerian water up to the Gulf of Guinea region by the Nigerian Navy.
Ahmed said Nigeria has seen a significant reduction in piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea region, which has transcended into greater efficiency in terms of the operations of shipping companies in Nigeria and within the region.
“Deep Blue Project is simply around having the resources and the framework to ensure the number of attacks is limited and that we are able to respond effectively. This is what the Deep Blue initiative is all about, which is highly commendable,” he said.
According to him, the challenge going forward is around sustainability, but operators are confident that it is possible, especially with the creation of the Marine and Blue Economy Ministry.
“The Marine and Blue Economy Ministry is a ministry that will focus on the marine industry, and in doing so, security is a critical aspect of the marine business. Therefore, if we are going to achieve what we want to achieve as a maritime nation, we must pay serious attention to maritime security,” he added.
However, Ahmed said that removing Nigeria from the list of high-risk areas does not mean that there would not be any attacks on Nigerian waters because there is nowhere in the world that incidents of pirate attacks do not happen.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in a recent report, also confirmed that the rate of pirate attacks on Nigerian waters has declined significantly.
It said the number of pirate attacks declined from 86 incidents in 2020 to 32 in 2021 and to only three incidents in 2022.
UNODC also attributed the drop in the number of attacks to the positive impact of Deep Blue through regular patrol of Nigerian waters by the Nigerian Navy, piracy convictions in Nigeria and Togo in July 2021 under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act 2019, coupled with improved cooperation with regional counterparts.
Giving insight on some of the assets deployed under the project, Victor Choji, acting fleet commander, Western Naval Command and Commander of Deep Blue Project, said that five armoured vehicles were deployed in Port Harcourt and three in Bonny, as well as 10 more vehicles in addition to a drone unit in Bonny and some personnel.
Choji said the Navy has deployed three units of special mission elements in brass and two interceptor boats with the special intervention force elements in central command.
Pointing out that there are also plans in place to deploy two interceptor boats to support the operations that are ongoing in Lagos inland waters, he said the assets have been deployed across the west, Central and Eastern Zonal in Nigeria.
Bashir Jamoh, director general of NIMASA, said the legal instrument called SPOMO Act signed into law in 2019, the full implementation of the Deep Blue Project by the agency, expanded assets and capacity of the Nigerian Navy, enhanced cooperation between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy are reasons piracy has declined in the region.
Jamoh said that regional collaborative efforts under the umbrella of SHADE Gulf of Guinea midwifed by NIMASA are all policies that are gradually bringing benefits and ensuring maritime security.
“By implementing these policies that are geared towards fighting piracy and other criminalities in Nigerian waters, we are focused on improving and reducing the cost of commercial shipping in Nigeria,” he said.
Meanwhile, the effort of Nigeria in curbing piracy was commended at different times by the United States Coast Guard through Brian Lisko of the US Department of State and the United Nations for playing a leading role in efforts to secure the Gulf of Guinea.
The project has land assets including the Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence Centre for intelligence gathering and data collection; 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol; and 600 specially trained troops for interdiction.
It has sea assets including two Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats as well as air assets comprising two Special Mission Aircraft for surveillance of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone; three Special Mission Helicopters for search and rescue operations; and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.