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By Godwin Oritse

THE recently arrested and released Chinese fishing vessel ‘Hailufeng 11’ has been slammed with a fine of N3million for turning off its Automated Identification System, AIS, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, has said.

The AIS is designed to be capable of providing information about the ship to other ships and to coastal authorities automatically for security monitor.

Speaking on behalf of the Director General, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, the Agency’s Head of Legal Services, Mr. Victor Egejuru, said the vessel has been of interest for some time before it was finally accosted and arrested for turning of her AIS which it claimed had become faulty.

Egejuru said the government had to be diplomatic in handling the situation because the vessel has never been arrested for any infraction adding that after now if it is found wanting on the nation’s territorial or coastal waters, it will be treated as a criminal vessel. “Next time if that vessel is arrested, we will deal with her decisively,” he stated.

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Recall that the fishing trawler was taken by pirates on Thursday, May 14, 2020 in the Ivorian exclusive economic zone with 18 crew-members aboard, eight Chinese, seven Ivorians and three Ghanaians.

However, through rapid and engaged cooperation among a number of different West African states and institutions, the vessel was tracked, and the Nigerian Navy was able to interdict it 140 nautical miles south of the Lagos Fairway Buoy at about 2210 local time on the night of May 16, 2020.

The dramatic rescue was hugely successful, as all 18 hostages were recovered, 10 pirates were arrested, and the vessel was safely escorted into Lagos.

Egejuru attributed the successful operation that led to the arrest of the pirates and rescue of the ship and its crew to collaboration between the NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. He said the Agency will continue to work with relevant security agencies in order to achieve its goal of eradicating piracy and all forms of illegality on the Nigerian waters.

He stated: “We have just witnessed the handover of the pirates. This is as a result of the robust collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. There has been a lot of synergy between NIMASA and the Navy with regard to the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act.”

He assured that with the anti-piracy law, there was ample legal framework to prosecute pirates and other perpetrators of maritime offences in the country to bring the menace to the barest minimum.

He stressed the need for increased regional cooperation and information sharing, disclosing that the arrest of the pirates was due to a tip-off by the Beninoise Navy. Shettima warned criminal elements to stay away from Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, saying the Navy has the capability to deal with such threats.

He added that the current management of NIMASA will focus on three main areas, namely, Maritime Security, Safety, and Shipping Development, in pursuit of a robust maritime domain for the country.

The alert about the attack was raised and disseminated by local authorities. The coordination was provided by the Yaoundé Architecture for Maritime Security, without the involvement of foreign navies. Oil was not the focus of the attack, with Nigeria having new legislation and procedures which may help produce a successful legal as well as operational finish.

Even before the owners of the vessel and Chinese government officials began notifying local authorities,  they believed the Hailufeng 11 had been attacked, the Vessel Monitoring System in Côte d’Ivoire’s Fisheries Ministry had triggered an alert.

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