By Vincent Obia
A POPULAR African proverb says the morning determines the day. The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. And experts say morning habits play a significant role in the success of an individual. That is why Dr. Bashir Jamoh’s early steps as Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, merit attention by stakeholders and the public, generally.
His coming happened under the shadow of COVID-19, at the start of the devastating hit to the national and global economies by the coronavirus pandemic. The world was virtually locked down, but maritime came to humanity’s rescue, offering strategic movement for badly needed goods and services. Jamoh was there to provide crucial direction for the safe and secure movement of the seafarers and the vital supplies they delivered.
NIMASA developed and published new guidelines, via marine notice, designating seafarers and dockworkers as essential workers who should be exempted from travel restrictions. It was in line with newly endorsed protocols by the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, designed to lift barriers to crew change and support the shipping sector, amid the pandemic.
Maritime safety and security are topics that are close to Jamoh’s heart. Doubling down on some of the industry’s biggest problems on assumption office in March, he flagged commitment to Maritime Safety, Maritime Security, and Shipping Development as his administration’s roadmap to the sector’s progress in the next four years.
“I subsumed the critical responsibilities of the Agency into three pillars, a tripod, which I called Triple S or 3S, so that it can be easily remembered and understood,” he said. “They are Maritime Safety, Maritime Security, and Shipping Development. In this 3S you have the entire gamut of the mandate of the Agency.”
Jamoh is no stranger to the challenges in the maritime sector. He has seen the industry’s ups and downs in the last 32 years. And with the wisdom of hindsight – and foresight – he has set for his administration’s targets to overcome the challenges and move the industry forward.
The route is rough and long, but Jamoh knows the right place to start and how to invest where the shoe pinches. With great determination, he has set about fixing the mechanism for solution to the security issues behind the bad press that Nigeria consistently gets in the global maritime community.
“The first thing we tried to do when we came on board was to ensure collaboration and synergy among the actors,” Jamoh stated, adding: “We improved our relationship with the Nigerian Navy, Nigeria Police, Department of State Services, DSS, as well as the stakeholders. We created awareness as regards what to do in the event of attack by pirates or sea robbers. We started with our own territorial waters and escalated it to the Gulf of Guinea.”
The new synergy between NIMASA, Nigerian Navy, Nigeria Police, DSS, and other maritime security actors in the last few months has yielded visible results. About 27 suspected pirates and sea robbers have been arrested, the first since 2016, in a strong message to the criminal elements and the international community. These suspects would be the first to be tried under Nigeria’s new antipiracy law, the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences, SPOMO, Act, which was signed into law in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari. The law made Nigeria the first in West and Central Africa to have one such distinct legislation.
The law aims to ensure safe and secure shipping at sea by criminalising and prosecuting piracy and other breaches. It provides a legal basis for the criminalisation and prosecution of piracy and other maritime crimes through the country’s maritime security enforcement agencies: the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA.
The Antipiracy Act contains unmistakable definitions of piracy and other maritime offences. It has provisions for penalties upon conviction for maritime crimes, restitution of violated maritime assets to owners, and forfeiture of proceeds of maritime crime to the government. The law vests exclusive jurisdiction in the Federal High Court and provides relevant authorities with powers to seize pirate vessels or aircraft in Nigerian or international waters.
As part of the deliberate effort to ensure maritime security through concerted actions, NIMASA is leading moves to harmonise and intensify information sharing among the surveillance systems of the key maritime agencies. Jamoh is determined to achieve the synchronisation of NIMASA’s C4i with the Navy’s Falcon Eye, and the C3i, which belongs to the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA.
The Command, Control, Communication, Computers, and Intelligence Centre (C4i Centre), which commenced operations on a 24-hour basis last year, is the intelligence arm of the Deep Blue Project, also known as the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure. The initiative aims to comprehensively tackle insecurity on Nigeria’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone, up to the Gulf of Guinea.
The Deep Blue Project is a brainchild of the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi. The policy intervention takes into consideration the lapses of previous security arrangements and seeks to address them. According to Jamoh, “When the minister came in at the inception of the present government in 2015, he sought to emplace a maritime security architecture that is strong enough to overcome the failures of the past systems, sophisticated enough to outpace the ever-growing complexities of crime, and flexible enough to fit into the country’s own peculiarities as well as international best standards. Those were the thoughts that went into the making of the Deep Blue Project, and that is why the current management at NIMASA takes very seriously the question of synergy among the maritime stakeholders, both locally and internationally.”
He added, “In trying to harmonise, we have agreed to make these platforms interface with each other because we all are serving the same government. After taking stock, we would be able to see where the gaps exist in terms of what is still lacking, so that we can connect the dots. With this, we can build a concrete platform to fight maritime insecurity.”
There have also been vigorous attempts by NIMASA to ensure safety at sea. The Agency hosts the Regional Maritime Coordination Centre, RMCC, located at the Nigerian Maritime Resource Development Centre, Kirikiri, Lagos. The Lagos RMCC, one of the five designated Regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres in Africa, is the secretariat of the West and Central African Search and Rescue Region. It coordinates Search and Rescue activities, and assists craft or persons in distress within the waters of nine countries in the region, namely, Republic of Benin, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Congo Democratic Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Togo.
Besides the one located at NIMASA’s Nigerian Maritime Resource Development Centre, which is fully up and running, there are three other centres in the country. They are located at Tarkwa Bay, in the Lagos/Western axis, Bonny, Escravos, and Oron. These three are expected to be fully operational by the end of this year.
The search for maritime safety and security through collaborative efforts has not been limited to domestic stakeholders. NIMASA co-chairs a working group of international stakeholders, including International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, INTERTANKO, an association of independent tanker owners throughout the world; International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners, INTERCARGO; International Chamber of Shipping, ICS, which brings together the main international trade association in the shipping industry, representing shipowners and operators in all sectors and trades; international oil companies; and Baltic and International Maritime Council, BIMCO, the largest international shipping association representing shipowners, with membership in over 120 countries.
BIMCO members control about 65 per cent of the world’s tonnage. The working group meets monthly with representation from the Nigerian Navy, Nigeria Police, Federal Ministry of Transportation, and local stakeholders. The meeting discusses issues of common interest and solutions are proffered, with the ultimate aim of ensuring safety and security in Nigerian waters.
The recent initiatives, especially the attempt to stem piracy in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, have earned Nigeria special praise from IMO. In a letter to the NIMASA Director-General last month, Secretary-General of IMO, Kitack Lim, said with the current prosecution of arrested pirates, Nigeria was sending a “strong and valuable message” to the global community about its commitment to safety and security in its waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
Lim commended the steps “taken by Nigeria to address maritime security threats in the region.” He stated, in a glowing appraisal of Jamoh’s style at the wheel of power, “I commend your leadership and proactive response. I would also like to reiterate my congratulations to the Nigerian Navy on the successful capture and arrest of pirates from the fishing trawler Hailufeng 11, and more recently on the rescue of the crew members of the containership Tommi Ritscher.
“Those actions, together with all the other initiatives you highlighted in our meeting, including progress with the Deep Blue Project, send a strong and valuable message to the international community with respect to the considerable efforts your government is making to curb piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Guinea.”
Many believe Jamoh’s proactive early steps are likely to prove very consequential in determining the trajectory of the maritime sector in the years ahead. As one stakeholder put it, “This voyage certainly has the right man in the wheelhouse.”