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Maritime security: NN records 13.05 % reduction in petroleum smuggling

…Destroys N8.4 billion illegally refined crude oil

By Evelyn Usman

Despite several capability gaps of the Nigerian Navy, in the discharge of its statutory roles in Nigeria’s maritime environment, which includes inadequate platforms, difficult operating terrain, weak legislative regimes and inadequate funding among others, it has been able to contain major security challenges in the nation’s maritime domain.

This is in further confirmation of the recent reports released by the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, where Nigeria was placed ahead of other countries in the world in the war against pirates’ attacks.

For instance, statistics at Crime Guard’s disposal showed a significant decrease in anti-smuggling operations conducted by various Navy bases, in the first half of 2019,when compared to the first half of the previous year.

This analysis on the Nigerian Navy efforts under the leadership of the 22nd Chief of Naval Staff, CNS Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibass, in curbing various maritime crimes for the first and second quarters of 2018 and 2019 will include its anti-smuggling operations, anti-crude oil theft and anti-piracy/sea robbery operations on Nigerian waters.

Anti-Smuggling

Indication emerged that about 54.62 per cent decrease in anti-smuggling was recorded within the first half of year 2019. Within the Area of Operations of the Nigerian Navy Ship NNS VICTORY, Forward Operation Base FOB IBAKA, and FOB Badagry, the NN, reportedly intercepted and seized a total of 6,290 bags of rice in the first half of 2019 representing about 54.62 per cent decrease, when compared with the 13,681 bags of rice seized within the same period in 2018.

Similarly, record shows that a marginal decrease was observed in the smuggling of petroleum products in the first six months of 2019 when compared with the same period in 2018.

For instance, petroleum products totaling about 924,322 litres were reportedly seized in the first half of 2019, representing 13.05 per cent decrease when compared to about 1,063,075 litres of smuggled petroleum products intercepted and seized within the same period in 2018.

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The Navy’s Director of Information, Commodore Suleiman Dahun, attributed the reduction in smuggling to the intensified anti-smuggling patrol efforts of NN bases, which he said was geared towards complete eradication of all forms of criminalities within their various Areas of Operations.

He noted that criminals in Badagry area, who were known for smuggling of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS siphoned from Atlas Cove, were beginning to venture into the smuggling of other goods lately.

He said, “ For instance, there have been five major interceptions and seizures comprising two seizures of smuggled rice and three of smuggled poultry products during the period, within FOB Badagry Area of Operations.

“It is likely that some of the smugglers operating through Ibaka axis are beginning to face more difficulties in carrying out their nefarious activities in the area due to the intensified patrols of NNS VICTORY and FOB IBAKA and may have resorted to shifting towards Badagry axis. Going forward, NN bases have been directed to step up intelligence gathering efforts and ensure sustained patrols of the seaward flanks of their Area of Operations. Additionally, these units have also been directed to sustain their anti-smuggling patrols with a view to arresting more suspects in their respective Area of Operations”.

Anti-Crude oil theft operations

Another area where the Navy recorded a seeming remarkable success in the fight against maritime crimes, was in its crude oil theft operations. It is no longer news that Crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and illegal refining, pose a great threat in the nation’s maritime domain particularly with Nigeria, being a mono economy country which depends solely on revenue generated from oil for her economic survival.

In its efforts to curb the menace of crude oil theft, record shows that the Navy made seizures of 227 illegal refineries, 2,688 storage facilities, 364 wooden boats, 11 barges and 32 vessels from January to June 2019. Furthermore, about 131,085.06 barrels of crude oil and about 29,612,202 litres of illegally refined products valued at about N8.4 billion were destroyed in the course of the its anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) efforts within the period.

These figures, represent about 34.01 per cent decrease when compared with the 344 illegal refineries destroyed within the same period in 2018. It also shows a significant increase when compared with NN’s anti-Crude Oil Theft efforts during the same period in 2018, where it destroyed 344 illegal refineries, 1,003 storage facilities, 68 wooden boats and impounded five barges and 25 vessels involved in suspected Crude Oil Theft.

Also, a total of about 187,084.59 barrels of crude oil and about 11,879,500 litres of illegally refined products valued at about N6.1 billion were reportedly destroyed in the course of the NN’s anti COT efforts within same period in 2018.

The decrease was attributed to the extensive swamp buggy operations carried out by NNS PATHFINDER in Rivers State and NNS DELTA,in Delta state, as well as the sustained patrols efforts and intelligence gathering techniques, which the Navy said made it difficult for oil thieves to move out stolen products from the backwaters/creeks to the sea.

This however, has not stopped the recalcitrant perpetrators, who recently adopted a confrontational posture with the NN personnel on patrol, in a bid to continue with their nefarious activities, which has caused an environmental degradation.

In an effort to address the environmental degradation arising from destruction of illegally sourced petroleum products and illegal refining sites, the Director General of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) NOSDRA visited the Chief of Naval Staff, on May 22, 2019, to explore better ways of disposing recovered stolen petroleum products. Sequel to the meeting, NOSDRA nominated two of its personnel to collaborate with nominated personnel from the NN to consider better disposal methods of the products instead of burning, with a view to reducing environmental degradation and economic losses to the nation.

It is envisaged that the outcome of this deliberations would offer better alternatives to the current methods of destruction of seized illegally sourced petroleum products within Nigeria’s maritime environment. Furthermore, the NN Operations Bases and FOBs have been directed to double their efforts and step up intelligence gathering mechanism and security patrols in order to frustrate the crude oil thieves perpetrating illegalities in their various AORs, Commodore Dahun hinted.

Anti-Piracy/Sea robbery operations

In living up to its constitutional mandate, Anti-Piracy/Sea robbery operations conducted by the Nigerian Navy Ships and Operations Bases, have also led to slight decrease in piracy/sea robbery incidents in the first half of 2019, when compared with the same period in 2018.

Statistics show that in 2018, a total of 38 incidents of piracy/sea robbery attacks were recorded from January to June with 10 incidents representing 26.3 per cent successful and 28 incidents representing 73.7 per cent unsuccessful.

On the other hand within the same period in 2019, a total of 29 incidents were reported with 11 representing 38 per cent successful and 18 representing 62 per cent unsuccessful. The slight increase in successful attacks in the first and second quarters of 2019 when compared with the same period in 2018, was attributed to possible compromise and complicity of ship’s crew in some of the reported piracy incidents.

This position, as gathered, was arrived at after some investigations showed that some attacked merchant vessels might have intentionally failed to position lookouts, carry out evasive manoeuvres or muster the whole ship’s crew in the citadel to avoid being abducted.

A vivid instance as cited by the Navy, were two isolated attacks involving MV GLARUS flagged Switzerland and MT APECUS flagged Palau, on September 22, 2018 and April 19, 2019 respectively, where piracy incidents suspected to have been carried out with some level of complicity of the crew members, occurred.

In addition to the integration of Maritime Domain Awareness, MDA facilities, the Nigerian Navy has continued to maintain presence at sea with continuous deployment of NN ships. However, despite all these efforts, pirates continued to evolve new tactics to continue terrorizing sea fearers to the detriment of Nigeria’s shipping industry and its negative effect on economic prosperity of the nation.

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To address this, Commodore Dahun, said, plans by the Navy to speed up the NN Drones Acquisition and Integration Program was underway. He said, “this would enhance NN Operations through early warning which would in turn reduce reaction time for NN platforms”.

Furthermore, the NN according to him, would liaise with NIMASA on the need to inform merchant ship owners to conduct proper vetting of ship’s crew to forestall the possibility of hiring criminally minded individuals, adding that while this position was already being considered, the NN would continue to deploy appropriate platforms in identified areas prone to piracy/sea robbery in order to reduce the rate of attacks on shipping within Nigeria’s maritime domain.

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