By Ediri Ejoh

PIRACY: The priority placed on safety of ships, cargo, and personnel by the global shipping community cannot be overemphasised. Thus, implementing measures to enhance security without impeding the timely flow of legitimate commerce is critical to any nation that depends largely on the operations of the blue economy.

According to the World Shipping Council, WSC, one of the greatest security threats to the maritime industry globally is piracy.

Also, Oceans Beyond Piracy, a firm dedicated to the fight against piracy, recently disclosed that the shipping industry spends around $1 billion a year on private security.

READ ALSO: Navy Chief orders release of arrested vessels to EFCC

Similarly, in 2012, ABC News, the American News media reported that about 50 percent of ships in the Indian Ocean, an area high in pirate incidents, had armed guards.

They also reported that a lot of former the United States, US, military personnel were joining companies or creating companies to provide security for ships navigating these dangerous areas.

Security for ships

By implication, the concept of involving the private sector in tackling this menace is fast becoming a global phenomenon.

Nigeria, as a nation is not free from this maritime risk as most reports regard the Gulf of Guinea as an area of concern in the industry.

Evidence abounds showing how piracy peaked in 2007. The result was a drastic reduction in the country’s crude oil production. Some of the multinational companies operating in the sector were on the verge of pulling out of the country. Similarly, platforms, vessels, and ships were almost avoiding Nigerian ports because of the activities of these criminals.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that at the height of piracy, armed robbery at the sea and proliferation of illegal arms, the need for a local solution became imperative.

Local solution

The Nigerian Navy which is charged with the statutory responsibility of protecting the nation’s maritime territory in collaboration with the International Oil Companies, IOCs, set up a steering committee which involved the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Nigerian Port Authority, NPA, and other stakeholders to proffer lasting solutions to the security within the Lagos Harbour Approach.

It was learned that an indigenous security firm, OMS was invited to a meeting with the steering committee.

The decision reached by the committee was the creation of fresh demarcations for better governance of the sea area.

Steering committee

This demarcation includes Traffic Separations Scheme ,TSS, Ship-To-Ship Transfer Operations, STS, and the Secure Anchorage Area , SAA.

The appropriate authorities like NIMASA and NPA then went ahead to publish the steering committee’s resolutions in some national dailies as Marine Notice.

According to a recent publication signed by the Chairman of OMS, Capt. Idahosa Okunbo, it was based on the public advertisement that his company was encouraged to participate in the venture to provide security for the Lagos Harbour Approach using the SAA model.

The designated place for SAA operation was defined as 10 nautical miles outwards of the Fairway Buoy.

Sunday Vanguard learned that the specified area is outside the NPA jurisdictional purview, beginning from the Fairway Buoy, inwards.

Having defined the areas of operations OMS according to Okunbo was encouraged to “procure platform to be utilised within the SAA and went further to develop and submit a business plan of 20 years for a return on investment to the Nigerian Navy.”

Elaborating on how the initiative was consolidated, Okunbo stated that upon submission of the business plan, “The Nigerian Navy, subsequently, informed the NPA of its collaboration with OMS on the SAA project and stated that the project complements the Navy’s efforts to secure our maritime space and gives added comfort to operations in the region.”

Tackle menace

Collaborating Okunbo’s position, an industry expert, who pleaded anonymity told Sunday Vanguard that the SAA initiative was a strategic decision by the Nigerian Navy, the IOCs, and other stakeholders, which included the NPA and NIMASA, to tackle the menace.

OMS was said to have been invited to participate in the venture because of its records in securing crude oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.

The IOCs were reportedly disposed to the funding of the Nigerian Navy, bearing in mind the fact that they are business entities that had other responsibilities.

Also speaking, another maritime expert, Chief Bannered Collins, said in the face of the circumstances prevailing then where the IOCs were sufficiently threatened to consider exiting the country, all the industry stakeholders approved of the SAA modus operandi.

His words: “The Navy did not have adequate platforms or logistics to tackle the dangerous criminals. Kidnapping was soaring. Demand for ransom was getting out of hand. The nation’s image was at stake. Relevant stakeholders were begging the IOCs not to depart Nigeria. Suddenly, the IOCs came up with the idea of an SAA. The only problem was where to find the private investors, who would be willing or adventurous enough to procure relevant vessels costing about $3m each, to hand them over to the Nigerian Navy, without any insurance cover.

“But, one company called OMS opted to take the risk. It was a stupid risk. To invest about $3million in each vessel and leave it to operate uninsured looked stupid. But I guess it is now paying off. And that explains why Nigerians, in our characteristic greedy nature, want to kill it now.

“Individually, we hailed them and the idea of secure anchorage area. But I think it was the NIMASA that first hailed the idea as a corporate breakthrough.

The agency also, in the advert, emphatically acknowledged that the SAA exists to “serve as an additional security service for provision of dedicated 24/7 watch, to vessels seeking extra protection while at anchorage offshore Lagos.’’

Industry stakeholders

Meanwhile, industry stakeholders said the recent opposition to SAA is uncalled for, describing it as an unnecessary distraction.

The NPA had in October issued Marine Notice to maritime stakeholders on a proposal to discontinue OMS operation of SAA.

Some stakeholders have expressed surprise at the sudden change of position by the NPA, wondering if the decision is in the interest of the nation’s maritime industry.

On his part, the President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Increase Uche, cautioned against the proposed sudden dismantling of the SAA.

According to him, those calling for the scrapping of the SAA project must provide a superior alternative, saying that doing so would lead to a resurgence of maritime crimes, attract higher insurance cost of vessels coming into Lagos, and further tarnish Nigeria’s image.

He, therefore, warned that dismantling the SAA may result in the diversion of cargoes to ports of neighbouring countries, whenever government suspends the current land borders closure policy.

Uche said: “We have seen what the industry had passed through and we do not want to go back to the old order. We do not want our cargoes to be exposed to criminals. We are appealing to the Nigerian Ports Authority to rescind the decision to dismantle the SAA.”

On allegations that OMS was using NPA’s three vessels to make money for itself, OMS General Manager, Business Development and Government Relations, Commodore Chuma Adogu ,retd, who debunked the claim described it as a deliberate attempt to misinform the public.

He stated that although NPA provided three vessels for the Nigerian Navy, none of the vessels is in the secure anchorage area.

“All the vessels that are used in the secure anchorage are owned by the OMS, donated to the Navy. Like I told you, the relationship we started in 2007 made us to acquire vessels that are domiciled with the Navy, painted in Navy colours. An outsider may not know the difference, but we know, and the Navy knows. It is not true that we are using government assets to make money.

“Our relationship is for security services, which NPA does not have a mandate for. Who has the mandate for security?

“Before now, any of these three things happens: the vessels stay outside our territorial waters, where pirates can’t reach them 200 miles away and wait for allocation of berth. Others who don’t want to stay that far, come in with mercenaries and thereby breach our security.

However, while NPA is stilling nursing the idea of dismantling the SAA project, industry experts believe the collaboration between OMS and the Nigerian Navy has significantly improved the nation’s maritime domain.

Since the commencement of SAA in 2013, the area under OMS coverage was gathered to have recorded success without any attack by pirates.

The success story, according to industry experts, made the SAA a comfort zone and preferred location for captains of vessels coming to Lagos. As of today, the SAA provides security for 26 vessels and three others conducting STS operations.





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