…277,040 crude oil, 23.1m litres AGO,1.2m DPK, lost to illegal refining

…46 vessels arrested

By Evelyn Usman

One of the ills bedeviling the security space of the country’s coastline  has been  the scourge of maritime crimes such as piracy , sea robbery , crude oil theft , bunkering , insurgency and hostage taking.

Rear Admiral James Oluwole (centre) with Officers of the Eastern Naval Command during the flag off  of Operation Sharkbite onboard NNS Okpabana at Onne seaport

Often times , Nigerians are daunted with news of criminal elements who hide under the veneer of these maritime crimes to inflict untold emotional and psychological trauma on innocent and defenseless sailors.

Aside this, is  the huge impact these acts of criminalities have on Nigeria, which  relies on the sea for about 90% of its import and export , with oil being a major part of its trade.

With the rich endowment of Nigeria’s maritime domain, its networks of oil and gas installations and associated shipping which  are threatened by maritime crimes,  insecurity in the country’s  maritime domain becomes a major source of concern.

This concern rests at the door step of the Nigerian Navy , which statutory mandate according to the new Navy Act of 1964, included maritime defense of the country as its main responsibility.

To tackle these challenges, any littoral country needs not just a good number of workforce in its Navy but adequate platforms such as ships and helicopters and attendant strategic resources to effectively police its territorial domain.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian Navy, can not boast of having all it takes to monitor  the nation’s vast maritime space due to inadequate ships and helicopters.

For instance, Nigeria has a delta region with over 3,000 crude oil bearing creeks which presents a unique challenge to maritime policing. Consequently, the inadequacy of platforms  gives undue advantage to criminals who are mostly local residents with adequate local knowledge of the creeks.

But the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, at a  recent lecture at the National Defence College, said  efforts  of the Service towards acquisition of UAVs to mitigate this challenge was  at an  advanced stage. However, with the prevailing obstacles, a cursory look at the Navy’s operational activities aimed at  ensuring a safe maritime domain for economic activities to thrive, showed  significant gains were achieved in 2018, which  led to increased output in maritime trade, particularly oil production.

This was revealed in a statistics  on the Nigerian Navy score card  for 2018,  at  the disposal of Vanguard Maritime Report. In the year under review, reported incidents of piracy on shipping in Nigeria’s maritime domain indicated a relatively  sustained downward trend in the number of successful attacks.

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Statistics however, revealed that  the quantity of crude oil lost as a result of illegal oil refining activities in 2018 is about 277,040 Barrels, while about 23.1 Million litres of AGO, 212,610 litres of PMS and 1.2 Million litres of DPK were also lost.

On the other hand,  no attack on shipping was recorded in the nation’s waters between  June and August 2018, according to the report.

But an attack each, was recorded in July, October and  December 2018,  mainly along the coasts of Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States. Also , few attacks were said to have taken place in the  swamp/onshore areas, with none reported against  the Oil and Gas Installations, OGI located offshore during the year in focus.

The seeming  feat as gathered , was not unconnected with the Nigerian Navy’s focus on capacity development under the watch of  Vice  Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas and various  operational activities  conducted during the year under review.

Vanguard Maritime Report  gathered that  the operational engagements of the NN in 2018 which were geared towards securing the internal, territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone,EEZ spectrums of the maritime domain and contributing to counter insurgency and counter terrorism efforts on land, included  Operation TSARE TEKU.

From the  statistics, 34 pirates attacks on shipping were reported, out of which nine were  successful and 25 unsuccessful between January and December 2018, through this operation that is  mandated to combat attacks on shipping and other illegal activities in its designated area, as well as protect offshore oil and gas installations.

Also,  20 sea robbery attacks were reported, out of which six were  successful and 14 unsuccessful, while 46 vessels and barges were arrested over alleged  involvement in maritime crimes during the period under review.

Since the inception of Op TSARE TEKU in April 2016, record showed  drastic reduction in reported incidents of attacks with  fewer successful attacks.

Since most  attacks at sea originate from land, the NN, emplaced a Choke Point Management and Control Regime which  involves deployment of armed personnel in houseboats, to strategic locations within the creeks and  supported by patrol boats.

Information at Vanguard Maritime Report showed  that  nine  houseboats otherwise known as Naval Security Stations, NSS were deployed where crude oil theft and illegal refining activities are known to be prevalent. Since the introduction of the Choke Point Control Regime, several arrests and destruction of barges and other vessels allegedly  used for conveying stolen crude oil and illegally refined products have reportedly  been arrested, according to report.

In the year under review,  31 large wooden boats were arrested over alleged involvement in illegalities, while  176  others were  destroyed.

Another major capability development adopted  to combat maritime crimes, was Operation RIVER SWEEP. Its introduction according to Rear Admiral Mackson Kadiri, at a recent media briefing in Abuja, was informed by noticeable increasing activities of illegal refiners, particularly in Delta and Rivers States.

The Operation he explained,  involved air surveillance, insertion of Special Forces by gunboats, pulling down of located illegal refining sites with the use of swamp buggies as well as arrest/destruction of boats and barges found in such locations.

In 2018,  637 illegal refining sites were reportedly destroyed during Operation River Sweep. Also,  104 speed boats and 340 suspects were arrested over alleged Crude Oil Theft , COT, Illegal bunkering and  smuggling.

Statistics also revealed that  the quantity of crude oil lost as a result of illegal oil refining activities in 2018 was about 277,040 Barrels, while about 23.1 Million litres of AGO, 212,610litres of PMS and 1.2 Million litres of DPK were also lost.

In addition to the use of vessels and helicopters, is another operational engagement known as Maritime Domain Awareness, which carries out

round the clock surveillance of Nigeria’s maritime space using the Regional and Maritime Awareness Capability, RMAC and Falcon Eye facilities, with a view to  securing the internal, territorial and EEZ spectrums of the maritime domain, as well as contributing to counter insurgency and counter terrorism efforts on land.

Investigation shows that the NN has 24 Maritime Domain Awareness MDA Centres located across the Nigerian coastline, which  facilitate prompt reporting of attacks of vessels at sea and subsequent  foiling of several piracy incidents.

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Forty-six vessels and barges as gathered , were arrested last year through these  MDA centres.

To enhance response capability , the NN, said it  acquired more platforms in 2018. Among them were  additional six OCEA Class patrol vessels namely NNS NGURU, SHIRORO, EKULU, OSE, GONGOLA and CALABAR as well as the induction of several riverine patrol boats, last December , for seaward and riverine operations.

But whether these additional boats will adequately enhance the patrol of the vast maritime space, remains a question to be answered when the Navy’s 2019 scorecard will be reviewed.

While the Service’s 2018 scorecard  highlighted the threats to legitimate activities in the nation’s maritime environment as well as its efforts in combating them, there is still need to address some outstanding issues and capability gaps affecting the NN operations.

One of these boiling issues is the need for  the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission NNPC to impress on oil companies to emplace more effective surveillance/monitoring mechanisms on their crude oil pipeline networks.

There is also need for the Gulf of Guinea, GoG countries to have a harmonized procedure for the arrest, detention and prosecution of maritime crimes.

Though reports have it that Nigeria had made effort by introducing the Harmonized Standard Operating Procedures for the Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Persons and Vessels in Nigeria’s Maritime Environment (HSOP AD&P).

However, these procedures do not apply to maritime offences outside Nigeria’s area of jurisdiction. More so, the document is said  not to  have the force of law, leading to substantial non-compliance by some stakeholders in Maritime Law Enforcement.

In this regard, the National Assembly would be required to facilitate passage of the Anti-Piracy Bill for the administration of justice to suspected pirates arrested by the NN.

In addition, is the necessity of  an appropriate legal framework and closer liaison with prosecuting agencies, for the expeditious prosecution of maritime crimes in the GoG, if indeed the mandate of the  NN to ensure safer waterways and sea lanes for Nigeria’s economy to thrive, must be realized in its entirety.



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