By Godfrey Bivbere
CONTRARY to claims by officials of the Nigeria Navy, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, there are strong indications that the maritime agencies approved the establishment and operations of the controversial Lagos Anchorage.
However, operators in the maritime industry are questioning the rationale behind the establishment of the area known as Security Anchorage Area, SAA, even as they frowned at the abandonment of the official anchorage hitherto operated by NPA.
Financial Vanguard had on Monday October 24, 2016 published a report titled “Nigerians, foreigners operating illegal anchorage in Lagos”. The report among other things revealed that “some influential Nigerians (top politicians and military personnel) and foreigners in collaboration with maritime agencies are collecting between $10,000 and $20,000 as anchorage fees from big tanker vessels that bring petroleum products into the country for Ship-To-Ship (STS) transfer.”
When contacted, officials of NIMASA, NPA and the Nigerian Navy either denied the existence and operations of such anchorage or refused to respond to enquiries.
Further investigations by Financial Vanguard, however, revealed that these government agencies either approved or knew about the existence and operation of the controversial anchorage. This was further confirmed to Financial Vanguard by the company operating the controversial Lagos anchorage, Ocean Marine Solutions, OMS.
According to the Assistant General Manager, Business Development, OMS, Commodore Chuma Adogu (rtd), the company had the approval of the Nigerian Navy to operate the anchorage business.
The company also told Financial Vanguard that they have the nod of the management of the NPA and the NIMASA, to operate the anchorage.
Adogu further made available to Financial Vanguard a copy of the approval letter purportedly written by the Nigerian Navy Hydrographic office to Hydrographer of the United Kingdom dated 8/02/2013 and signed by Rear Admiral A.G Inusa, Hydrographer of the Navy.
The letter with reference number NHQ/HD: 015/62/90/Vol.1/222 stated: “In line with the commitment of the Nigerian Navy (NN) to ensure a safe and secure maritime environment, the NN has approved the establishment of a Secure Anchorage Area, SAA, off the Lagos Harbour vide Reference A. The SAA is operated by the Ocean Marine Ltd. in collaboration with the NN.
“The SAA is located approximately 10nm South West of the Lagos Channel with the centre point at 06 17’30″N/003 12’00E. It is spherical in shape, 3nm in diameter expending to 5nm as required.
Relevant nautical charts
Also, the protected area is buffered by a 2nm Maritime Exclusion Zone, MEZ, within armed patrol boats interdict and deter potential threats.
“It is therefore requested that the occurrence of the SAA be noted for publication in the Notices to Mariners and relevant nautical charts.”
Adogu in his response to enquiries by Financial Vanguard on the issue, stated: “OMS equally sought and obtained the consent of other relevant maritime agencies, NIMASA and NPA publication in Vanguard Newspapers attached, to create a pool where operators desiring such services can be looked after together, hence the establishment of the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA).
He noted that the use of privately arranged security service by businesses in Nigeria that desire 24/7 dedicated security for their operation both on land and at sea is legally permitted under the law.
He further disclosed that OMS Ltd. has been collaborating with the Nigerian Navy since 2007, providing dedicated security service in the Niger Delta region for companies that desire 24/7 protection for their assets.
Confirming the involvement of foreigners, Adogu pointed out that “many shipping lines that learnt about the services through the extensive marketing by our international consultants – Messrs PGS, opted to key into it when making port calls to Lagos or transiting through Nigerian waters.
“The SAA is like a protected “car park” where only those who want the services can go to have 24/7 security.
“Operators of “secure car-park” do not share their charges for services provided with anybody other than paying necessary taxes to government, hence the question of which account the fees are paid to, does not arise.
“By rudimentary understanding, journalism demands that stories, especially those that can paint another in a bad light, are fully researched (particularly getting the input of the organization you wish to publish about) before publishing, to ensure that the truth and only the truth is put in the public domain.”
Denials by maritime agencies
Efforts by Financial Vanguard to get details of the anchorage in the previous report proved abortive as most people who spoke with Financial Vanguard refused to have their names on print but only confirmed the existence of the said anchorage.
While responding to enquiries by Financial Vanguard, Hajia Lami Tumaka, Head, Corporate Communications, NIMASA, denied any involvement of the staff of agency. She said that the reduction in piracy makes the claim unreal.
She pointed out that it does not make sense for ship owners to pay such huge amount when NIMASA in collaboration with the Navy has succeeded in reducing piracy in the Lagos waters through regular patrols.
She however disclosed that the agency would be glad to investigate any evidence with a view to meting out appropriate sanctions to deter others who may want to defraud legitimate businesses and tarnish the reputation of maritime agencies.
According to her, “I am not aware of any charges for using a certain safe corridor in the Nigerian maritime domain. And it is preposterous that NIMASA officials together with the Nigerian Navy are co travellers in this alleged illegality.
“You will recall that piracy and hijacking incidents in Nigerian waters have reduced drastically with Lagos even registering zero incidents in the last quarter. That vessel owners who are business people, will go ahead to pay whooping sums when the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA have guaranteed security as their constitutional mandate beggars belief.
“For the records, there are increased patrols of our maritime domain and the stance of the Agency and the naval leadership on illegality in our maritime domain is clear – it’s zero tolerance.
“However, the Agency will be happy to investigate any evidence you have with a view to mete out appropriate sanctions to deter others who may want to defraud legitimate businesses and tarnish the reputation of maritime agencies,” she concluded.
Similarly, General Manager in charge of Public Affairs, Chief Michael Ajayi, said that he would get in touch with NPA’s Harbour Master and get back to Financial Vanguard but he never did.
Admission of failure
But when contacted for response to the claim by OMS, Tumaka directed Financial Vanguard to one of the officers in the Maritime Guard Command, MGC, domiciled in NIMASA.
The officer who refused to have his name on print, acknowledged that there is collaboration between the Navy and OMS and there is no illegality in the operation.
Asked if the approval is not an admission of failure on the part of the Navy and NIMASA, the officer said it may not be unconnected with the fact that the Navy does not have the required platform to effectively police the nation’s waters.
The officer however acknowledged that there is a possibility that security may be compromised but noted the there are Navy officers involved in the operation of the top anchorage.
But efforts to get a reaction from Ajayi on the OMS claim proved abortive as he could not be reached on phone.
Maritime operators react: Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Consultative Council, NPCC, Henry Ajatomobi, said that such private operations are allowed but stressed the need for government to take the security situation serious.
Ajatomobi explained that the issue of security became necessary because the operators of the anchorage and the ships that visit the facility are foreigners.
According to him, “l think it depends on the port policy and you know that one is still in the works, the Ports and Harbours Bill that is with the National Assembly.
“If the commercial policy is the major objective which is trade, then you can have a justification for it. The only thing is that it also poses security implications and there have to be some level of balancing.
“The level of our development makes it seem that some things are not right. The easy example is that ports are supposed to operate 24 hours round the clock but we know that for security implications we are still not ripe for it.
“If you have private anchorage, just like you have private jetties, all that you need to do is to ensure that it is not turned into a conduct for illegal activities or for bringing illegal or unauthorised items or even dangerous weapons into the country.”
An operator, who spoke to Vanguard on the condition of anonymity, wondered why the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA that are supposed to ensure safety on the nation’s waterways should be conceeding such responsibility to a private firm.
The operator noted that with the reduction of piracy in the nation’s territorial waters, there is no reason why a private firm should be operating such a sensitive operations. The stakeholder pointed out that government is losing huge foreign exchange to the private firm.
Efforts to speak with the National Director of Information of the Navy, Comdr. Ezekobe Dinfo, and his Western Navy Command counterpart, Lt Cdr Chinwe Umar, proved abortive as they neither picked their calls nor respond to text messages.