By Nnamdi Ojiego
The recent marine notice issued by the management of Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) to shipmasters, shipowners and other operators whose vessels currently enjoy some level of security at designated anchorage, seems to be a signal of fresh battle in the Secured Anchorage Area, SAA, matter.
The latest move is coming despite the intervention of the National Assembly,NASS, on the issue which had almost torn apart frontline operator of the Lagos area Secured Anchorage Area, Ocean Marine Solution Limited and the management of NPA.
At the peak of the dispute between the operator and the authority, the Senate intervened and ordered that the status quo remained.
The intervention restricted the management of NPA from taking any action that will stop OMSL from carrying out its activities.
But the new move, which is the issuance of a marine notice on the anchorage, is seen as not only controversial but also capable of generating a fresh crisis.
Above all, it is perceived as an attempt to undermine the institution of the Senate. Hence, concerned stakeholders think it is uncalled for and may further impact the nation’s economy negatively.
While striving not to repeat facts that are already in the public domain and have been stated severally, it is important to emphasise that the collaboration between the Ocean Marine Solution Limited and the Nigerian Navy predates the emergence of the current management of NPA.
Some industry watchers have attributed the unfolding scenario to a lack of understanding of the importance of the services being rendered by OMSL to the nation’s maritime industry in particular and the Gulf of Guinea, others believe that it is propelled by the Nigerian factor.
Those who hold the latter view wondered why the NPA management after the decision by the Senate, is insisting that it is not bound by such. The NPA administration had while explaining the latest marine notice it issued stated that, “A Committee of the National Assembly can only play an advisory role in this matter. NPA is not compelled to abide by their directive.”
What this portrays in its entirety is an attempt to create a face-off between the agency and the National Assembly. Those knowledgeable about such confrontations argued that the outcome is usually not favourable to national interest.
The management of OMSL has remained calm over the controversy as it has refused to join issues with anybody except for the invitation of the National Assembly it had to honour.
Moreover, in what some have described as working for national interest, OMSL has continued to provide security services at the anchorage. This is to the admiration and acceptance of ship owners and operators who anchor their vessels at the designated area.
The latest development is perceived as despising the National Assembly and trying to flex muscles with the lawmakers. The move appears to be a violation of the stand of the lawmakers as reflected in the committee’s submission.
While it is a fact that NPA is the agency responsible for the administration of the ports across the country, it is not statutorily powered to provide the much-needed security for the maritime sector. More so when it comes to secured anchorage areas under dispute.
Worst still, it becomes more of a concern when the Nigerian Navy that is saddled with the constitutional responsibility of providing the required security is in collaboration with OMSL in the situation on the ground.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the management of OMSL is willing and ready to partner with the NPA on the secured anchorage area for the larger interest of the nation.
Stakeholders are however of the opinion that if the security arrangement in the Lagos Pilotage District is replicated in the Eastern ports, it will curb the issue of insecurity currently being experienced in that axis and boost the economy of the Eastern flanks.
Stakeholders want the NPA to be reminded that OML engagement with the Nigerian Navy is purely for security purposes and not port operations. Therefore, they urged the agency to busy itself with the challenges of bad port access roads, port congestion, and putting in place an efficient system that should also be cost-effective.
They maintained that as a result of the collaborative effort of both OML and the Navy, vessels at the anchorage cannot be arrested.
Recall that the NPA, late last year warned vessels against anchoring at the Secured Anchorage Area, SAA, and threatened to arrest any ship found within that axis.
In a notice to mariners, the NPA told all shipping agents, ship owners and charterers to ensure that vessels are anchored anywhere within the nation’s territorial waters with no financial commitment.
Recall that Nigeria was recently saved from the negative publicity of being reputed to have unsafe sea territory. That was as a result of piracy and other criminal activities.
One was the rescue of a Chinese cargo ship in the Gulf of Guinea by a combined team Nigeria Navy and OMSL.
According to reports obtained from FleetMon Explorer, an international news agency, a general cargo ship ‘Huanghai Glory,’ which left the Lekki Port, on Thursday, March 5, 2020, was reported to have been attacked and boarded by pirates at 1820 UMT some 85 nautical miles (NM) south of Lagos Nigeria.
The report stated that the ship and its 23 crew members (all Chinese) were said to have been under the siege of the pirates for about 24 hours after the matter was reported to the Nigerian authorities.
Independent investigation revealed that neither the NPA, nor the Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA), whom reliable source said were adequately informed could render any rescue efforts until a patrol boat (NNS SPARROW) owned and operated by the joint team of Nigeria Navy and OMSL under the Safe Anchorage Area (SSA) of Lagos port rose to the occasion.
Although FleetMon Explorer did not give o the details of patrol boat NNS SPARROW which rescued the ship and its crew members, our investigation confirmed that it belongs to OMSL, as it is part of the vessels purchased by the firm and hitherto deployed to the Lagos water coast.
It was done to assist the Nigerian Navy to carry out patrol operations as part of the SSA agreement.
Recall that the move to cancel operations on the SAA was perceived by some industry stakeholders as an attempt to further increase the level of unemployment in the country, as well as frustrate a good idea put in place to secure the nation’s maritime space.
Further findings showed that the ship ‘Huanghai Glory,’ which was rescued by the ‘NNS SPARROW’ is not under any contractual agreement with OMSL before it offered to intervene.
A source at the firm who confirmed the incident said: “The vessel is not our client but the Navy beckoned on us to assist considering the amount of bureaucracy it would take for them to execute the operation.”
The first quarter of 2020 saw a spike in piracy around the world, with 47 attacks compared to 38 for the same period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The Gulf of Guinea, a key production hub surrounded by eight oil-exporting countries in West Africa, has emerged as a global hot spot, accounting for 21 attacks so far this year and 90 percent of all kidnappings at sea in 2019.
Most attacks still occur in Nigerian waters, but piracy is expected to rise in 2021 and expand further into neighboring states, posing serious concerns for shipping and international oil companies, according to research by political risk consultancy, Verisk Maplecroft.
The number of crew kidnapped off the Gulf of Guinea increased to 121 in 2019. It was 78 in 2018. The gulf has now surpassed well-known areas such as the Strait of Malacca – a waterway that separates Malaysia and Singapore from Indonesia to become the global hotspot.
While pirates traditionally limited their operations to raiding oil tankers to sell their hold on the black market, the collapse of oil prices in 2015 forced them to alter their strategy, refocusing their efforts on abducting crews for ransom, Raymakers highlighted.
Unlike their Somali counterparts, pirates in the Delta do not have use of secured ports or beaching areas for captured ships, which limits their ability to hold a vessel or its contents for ransom and means operators in the region therefore rarely lose ships or cargo. However, they do face delays and increased costs due to the disappearance of the ship’s crews and subsequent ransom payments.
Given the recent collapse in global oil prices due to falling demand, Verisk anticipates that pirates are likely to attempt to board static tankers used as offshore storage facilities for unsold production.
The ships’ crews and cargo represent “ideal and relatively simple targets for pirates.
The indiscriminate nature of abductions means pirates are likely to target IOCs’ supply chains and oil shipments leaving export terminals in the Niger Delta, as evidenced by the abduction of seven crew members on the ExxonMobil-contracted supply vessel Zaro off the coast of Equatorial Guinea in December 2019.
IOCs will also have to contend with the risk that pirates will seek to abduct workers, particularly expatriates, directly from oil platforms in the Niger Delta.
Recall that three oil workers from a Niger Delta Petroleum Resources (NDPR) oil platform, Ogbele, were kidnapped in April 2019.
Three employees of Acme Energy Integrated Services Limited, which owned and managed the rig, were kidnapped and nine others injured when unknown gunmen attacked on April 26, 2019. The three kidnapped workers were released without harm on May 28, 2019, NDPR confirmed.
Considering the dangers posed by the activities of pirates, stakeholders are worried that the SAA matter, which had been settled, is now being revived.
An industry expert, Chief Chike Egbenu, told Sunday Vanguard that: “What the NPA management is trying to do could make shipping companies to start diverting Nigerian goods to other African countries. Should that be the case, our economy will suffer.
‘’ OMSL has ensured security in the waterways. The company should be allowed to do its job. Never break the pot that once gave you water. Never bite the hands that once fed you. Never despise the home that once sheltered you. Never punch holes on the umbrella that once gave you cover. If for now you, you have outgrown their usefulness, leave them intact.’’
Another stakeholder, Mr. Rotimi Moyegun, said: “Given how OMSL has satisfactorily carried out its duties, commending the firm is not a bad idea. The company has been working tirelessly against piracy in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy at no cost to government. It is rendering services to desired clients who are happy with the services.”