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Nigerian Navy operations and projections for overcoming criminality at sea

By Ibok-ete Ibas

THE global maritime commons have remained a veritable medium for driving growth, development and prosperity amongst both littoral and land-linked nations in the 21st Century. African seaborne trade has equally benefited from this growth, albeit with attendant maritime security challenges, particularly within the Gulf of Guinea, GoG. This is the case for Nigeria with a coastline of about 420 nautical miles. The country, in line with United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, lays claim to 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ, and has initiated the process of claiming a 350 nautical miles extended continental shelf, within the GoG.

Nigerian Navy
Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas

This maritime space has tremendous economic potentials due to its dominant portion of global hydrocarbon deposits, fishery resources, and several port facilities which if well harnessed are capable of improving the livelihood of the population. However, despite the aforementioned prospects, the frequent abuse of the vast expanse of the maritime domain through illicit activities of local and foreign collaborators has continued to raise our concerns. More disturbing is the fact that many of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic lifeline of member states, further exacerbating wide scale poverty.

Recent security occurrences within the region stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities. Their manifestations include attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft. There are also diverse forms of illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution which constitute serious challenges to the development of the countries in the region. As the lead agency responsible for security in the vast maritime environment of the country, the Nigerian Navy, NN, has initiated various operations and programmes geared towards creating a safe and secured maritime space for maritime commerce to thrive.

These initiatives are categorised into independent NN operations as well as collaborative operations with other stakeholders within Nigeria and beyond her borders. Considering the wide expanse of the maritime domain and the frequently mutating and transnational nature of maritime crimes, the NN has had to exploit available Maritime Domain Awareness, MDA, infrastructure to enhance her operational efficiency towards curtailing criminality within the GoG. The MDA infrastructure is also critical to our collective efforts, particularly as it relates to information sharing. I am, therefore, pleased to discuss Nigerian Navy operations and projections for advancing information sharing towards overcoming criminality at sea.

I would begin by first highlighting some NN independent operational engagements established to check criminality at sea. Two of these operations include the anti-piracy operation, Operation Tsare Teku and the anti-Crude Oil Theft, COT, and Illegal refining operation, Operation River Sweep. I am glad to inform that since the activation of the anti-piracy operation three years ago, there has been a successive decline in reported cases of pirate/sea robbery attacks within Nigeria’s maritime domain. The operation has also contributed to significant improvement in shipping into Nigeria’s maritime environment as attested to by Nigerian shippers.

The anti-COT and illegal refining operations also incorporated the Choke Point Management and Control Regime involving the deployment of armed personnel in houseboats designated at strategic chokepoints within the creeks. Patrol boats attached to the stations serve as counter theft responses to prevent any stolen crude from being taken away in ships or barges. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has attested to the successes of Op River Sweep, confirming huge savings for the nation due to massive reductions in pipeline losses between 2015 and 2018.

Apart from these two specifically designed operations, the NN continue to conduct policing patrols across the nation’s EEZ and territorial waters employing the advantage of its MDA infrastructure to coordinate and direct the pattern of patrols. The Service is thus able to conduct round the clock surveillance of Nigeria’s maritime space using the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability, RMAC, and the Falcon Eye, FE, facilities in addition to surface vessels and helicopters. These facilities ensure effective electronic tracking of vessels within our maritime environment whether fitted with Automatic Identification System, AIS, or not.

The systems also serve as force multipliers, as NN patrols are more mission oriented with attendant reduction in operational logistic cost. Following the historic tracking and arrest of the hijackers of a tanker MT MAXIMUS by the NN at the fringes of Sao Tome and Principe  in 2016, the Service has continued to achieve several successes using the MDA systems. For instance, the FE Systems were used to vector NNS UNITY to arrest MV NESO II in October 2018 while NNS Nguru and Ekulu were vectored to arrest MV Hawa and Akemijoe Deborah respectively as well as several others, in 2019. All these vessels were arrested on suspicion of committing infractions within Nigerian waters.

To further enhance NN surveillance and MDA network, the Service recently signed an MoU on white shipping with the Indian Navy and has applied to join the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, IONS, in addition to the Italian based Trans-Regional Maritime Network, which she joined in 2015. The NN also participated in the establishment of a mechanism for sharing maritime information with regional navies and maritime regulatory agencies at the Maritime Trade Information Sharing Centre in Ghana.

These strategic partnerships have the potential to further increase NN domain awareness across both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, with positive impact on surveillance capacity to facilitate NN policing duties. To consolidate the gains of the MDA project, the NN in collaboration with the US Government recently established a Regional MDA Training School for joint training of personnel of the NN and other navies of the GoG. This is with a view to steadily improving capacity for gathering and sharing of vital information to enhance collective response to security challenges at sea.

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To enhance maritime operations, the NN engages regularly with various stakeholders. In particular, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, Customs, Immigration, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency have been most supportive in this regard. These engagements foster a shared vision on the accomplishment of maritime security tasks and information sharing leading to the successful arrest and prosecution of several cases. One positive outcome of such consultation is the launch of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures, HSOP, on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons, HSOP AD&P, in Nigeria’s Maritime Environment in January 2017. Further to the launch, the NN constantly engages directly with each agency on modalities for implementation, resulting in the arrest of over 130 vessels within the past 2 years.

The HSOP was further boosted as a legal instrument for the administration of maritime crimes in Nigeria by Mr. President’s recent assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill of 2019. Pertinently, the Act would serve as strategic deterrence to the commission of various criminalities within the nation’s maritime environment and curtail the excesses of syndicates that continue to profit from sponsoring acts of piracy within the GoG. The Act also demonstrates the government’s resolve to enforce maritime law within the region towards changing global negative perception of the GoG as a haven for insecurity. To ensure wide dissemination of such legal and operational instruments, the NN convenes maritime stakeholders forum periodically. However, considering the transnational and migratory nature of these maritime crimes there is also the need for even more regional and international collaboration to boost maritime law enforcement.

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To this end, I am glad to mention that the NN has equally shown commitment to strengthening international collaboration towards improving maritime security in the GoG. In line with the intention to collectively address maritime security challenges in the global commons, the NN has supported regional efforts towards collective maritime security. Following the 2013 Yaoundé Declaration which adopted an inter-regional Code of Conduct for inter-navy cooperation between Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and Economic Community of Central African States, ECCAS, the NN in concert with other regional navies have instituted measures to check migratory crimes. Accordingly, the NN and navies of ECOWAS Zone E and the Gendarmerie of Niger Republic recently endorsed an MoU for combined patrol of their common maritime domain.

There has also been increased collaboration between the NN and navies from other partner nations to boost synergy in addressing illegalities within the GoG. For instance, the NN-led regional maritime exercises like the International Sea Exercise OPIA TOHA in 2016 and Exercise Eku Kugbe held in May 2018. Other annual exercises like the USA led Obangame Express and the French organized Navy Exercise for Maritime Nations, NEMO, also help to build regional capacity/cooperation for information sharing and maritime law enforcement in the GoG. A combined law enforcement operation code-named Operation Junction Rain was also hosted by the NN in April 2019. Operation Junction Rain brought on board various Nigerian maritime stakeholders and US Navy/Coastguard ship in partnership with remarkable results.

Increased information sharing between the NN and other agencies has contributed to a 50 per cent reduction of acts of piracy within the GoG between the First Quarter of 2018 and the First Quarter of 2019, as attested to by the International Maritime Bureau. The modest attainment by these initiatives clearly suggests that more sustained presence at sea and increasing exchange of critical information between regional maritime partners and stakeholders would be critical for the security of the maritime domain. Going forward, the NN intends to leverage such audience as today’s conference, to strengthen discussions with regional partners regarding a sustainable collaboration in joint operations and information sharing to guaranteeing the security of the maritime environment of the GoG.

Despite the NN’s effort at ensuring that maritime crimes are reduced to the barest minimum through efficient information dissemination, new challenges continue to unfold due to the dynamic nature of the criminals that operate within the environment. The intensity and trans-national nature of maritime crimes within the region requires a more diligent record and data capturing of the identity of criminal perpetrators. Sadly, lack of adequate data base on identified criminals has allowed perpetrators of maritime crimes to relocate from one country to the other without being identified easily. Some persons who have been prosecuted for maritime crimes on completion of their jail terms have resumed their criminal activities in other countries unnoticed. This gap within the West African sub-region needs to be given more attention and addressed. Clearly, with improved data base and information sharing on persons prosecuted for maritime crimes, it would be easier to track and apprehend such persons, should they continue to live in a life of crime. Although language has continued to pose some challenge on sharing information within the navies across West Africa, member states, particularly my Anglophone brothers would need to put more effort to ease communication for improved maritime security within the region.

Inadequacy and limited presence of naval assets at sea also hamper the enabling of maritime information gathering and sharing. Though the NN has in recent years renewed her fleet with new acquisitions, the fact still remains that the ships are not enough to maintain continuous presence as required to dominate the maritime space of interest. This inadequacy has resulted in information and response gaps making it difficult to acquire a holistic picture of the environment needed to share with relevant users. As part of effort to overcome this challenge, the NN has resorted to local ship building efforts to increase the size of her fleet. Other countries within the sub region could key into the NN’s ship building effort to expand their fleets in order to move at a common and consistent pace within the sub-region.

At this juncture, I must add that the NN recognises the centrality of collaboration with other maritime nations and international maritime agencies to successful maritime security operations. Fortunately, most regional navies are equipped with the RMAC system with the support of our ever supportive partners, the US Navy. We would need to go further to ensure a common network that would facilitate greater integration for seamless information sharing across the entire sub-region. The availability of the regional MDA Training School in Lagos Nigeria is another prospect to be harnessed by member countries. It would equally be expedient for member countries to reduce the bureaucracy required to share information, train personnel in common official language used by member nations as well as develop and share data regarding convicted offenders of maritime crimes. These measures would greatly enhance maritime operations and our collective desire to rid the GoG of criminality within the shortest possible time. Permit me to conclude by once again reiterating the commitment of the NN to emplacing a secure maritime environment for the prosperity of Nigeria, the GoG countries and the global commons in general

Vanguard

Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas presented this paper at the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference Marking the 60th Anniversary of the Ghana Navy.
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