BY GODWIN ORITSE
The United States of America Coast Guard has indicted the Nigerian government over the confusion at the nation’s ports, as to who has the authority to implement the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code in the country among the various government agencies.
This is coming as the 90 days ultimatum on port security issued by the United States government to Nigeria expires in about two weeks. The United States Coast Guard is again set for another visit with a view to auditing the level of Nigeria’s compliance with the ISPS Code. The US Coast Guard team is expected in Nigeria on the 26th of August just as plans to receive them have been concluded.
Since the threat to withdraw shipping services from Nigeria was issued by the American government, both the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, have been making frantic efforts to ensure that all is set for the US Coast Guard inspection. Should Nigeria fail to pass the audit exercise, it will spell doom for the nation’s economy as the American government and its allies will stop their vessels from sailing to Nigeria.
Already, the United States Coast Guard in its report after last year’s visit to Nigeria thumbed down Nigeria’s preparedness as to the implementation of the ISPS Code and noted that there is considerable confusion as to who has the authority to implement the ISPS Code in the country among the various government agencies with overlapping functions at the ports.
It was after the absence of a Designated Authority at the nation’s maritime service was brought to the notice of the Nigerian government that NIMASA was asked to take up the responsibility of Designated Authority, DA.
In the report, the American government through its Coast Guard expressed concern over the fact that even NIMASA as presently constituted has not developed any form of expertise to tackle the issue of terrorism in the maritime industry.
The US government also expressed concern that there is no anti-terrorism measures in place in Nigerian ports and threatened to impose sanctions on Nigeria if measures are not put in place within 90 days.
The report read in part: “The embassy of the United States of America presents its compliment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the honour to request that the Ministry forward this message to and the attached Aide Memoire to the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru, Honourable Minister of Transport, Idris .A. Umar, Senior Special Adviser to the President on Maritime Affairs, Mr. Leke Oyewole, Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Mallam Habib Abdullahi.
“The embassy has the honour to note that the government of the United States of America appreciates the willingness of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to host the visit by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) team to Nigeria to assess the effectiveness of anti-terrorism measures at ports and continued efforts to comply with the International Ship and Ports Facility Security (ISPS) Code.
“Overall, with some noteworthy exceptions noted in the attached Aide Memoir, the United States Coast Guard team determined that Nigerian Ports did not have in place effective anti-terrorism measures. Based on such observations during these visits to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the government of the United States of America would like to communicate several areas of concern.
“The visiting team noted the lack of clarity regarding which agency in the Federal Republic of Nigeria has the overall responsibility for overseeing anti-terrorism measures at these ports, as well as the uneven quality and consistency of oversight. As a result, the United States Coast Guard identified areas for improvement regarding anti-terrorism measures in Nigerian ports.
“The government of the United States of America respectfully request corrections of issues identified in the attached Aide Memoir within 90 days of receipt of this notification. Correction of such issues would allow the United Sates Coast Guard to refrain from implementing additional conditions of entry on all vessels sailing to United States ports that have called at non-exempted ports in the Federal Republic of Nigeria within five port calls of arrival in the United States of America.
“The Embassy has the further honour to note that the United States Coast Guard must provide public notice of such changes in condition of entry. The Embassy adds that vessels arriving from Nigerian port facilities assessed as having effective anti-terrorism measures, as listed in the attached Aide Memoir, will remain exempt. The Embassy respectfully notes that these additional conditions of entry, when implemented, would slow down maritime trade between our two countries and increase costs for Nigerian and other regional exporters using Nigerian ports.
‘The government of the United States of America, therefore, requests that the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria implement necessary actions as soon as possible to remedy specific port deficiencies noted in the attached Aide Memoir.
‘The Embassy recognises that authorities may face significant difficulties in instituting the needed measures and would welcome follow-on discussions.
The US Coast Guard report further said “The Embassy has the honour to note that International Port Security Liaison Officer Commander, David Gates, remains prepared to assist the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in addressing these issues so that the United States Coast Guard can change this determination as soon as possible.
“The Embassy respectfully requests that the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria identify a point of contact for future dialogue on this issue. The United States government, however, noted and commended some individual terminals and port facilities who are currently maintaining effective anti-terrorism measures.”
Meanwhile, the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority has prepared both Port Facility Security Plans (PFSP) and Port Facility Security Assessment (PFSA) on every terminal and facilities across the country. In the report, the American government also expressed concern over the ability of NIMASA to midwife and implement the Code.
Some of the deficiencies noted by the U S Coast Guard team in some of the terminals visited include inadequate training programmes, inadequate access control measures, and the failure to ensure that effective drills and exercises are carried out at several terminals.
“The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency claims some legal authority for ISPS Code matters, but has not been exercising the duties of a Designated Authority for port facilities and has not developed security expertise.
“The future of the current Designated Authority remains in doubt and intense friction remains between the various government ministries and agencies vying for authority over port security.
Reacting to the report, NIMASA’s spokesman, Mr. Isichei Osamgbi, said that the agency is working hard to ensure that Nigeria as a country is compliant to the ISPS Code.
Recall that the Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Security and Safety (PICOMSS) was responsible for the ISPS Code until NIMASA became uncomfortable with its presence and moved against it to be scrapped.
Even after PICOMSS was scrapped, NIMASA was still at a loss as to what to do until the government directed it to oversee the implementation of the Code in Nigeria.
As at the time of filling this report, the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority was making arrangement to acquire trained dogs that will be distributed to every port across the country.
In his reaction to the development, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, Mr. Hassan Bello, explained that Nigeria has obligation to the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code and all its attachments.
He, however, opined that Nigeria is currently complying with some aspect of the Code, adding that with time, it will be fully implemented in Nigeria.