Nigeria: Navy now arresting armed guards, Marine Police

The confusing maritime situation in Nigeria’s waters continues, following last week’s announcement from BIMCO:


Members operating vessels within the Nigerian EEZ and territorial waters should be aware that they may be at risk of potentially significant liabilities and delays if they employ armed guards on board their vessels who are sourced from the Nigerian Marine Police, the Nigerian Police or the “Joint Task Force”.

The Nigerian Navy only provides vessel escorts and it is understood to have sole primacy and authority in territorial waters and the EEZ. BIMCO has been advised that the Nigerian Navy does not provide or permit armed guards on merchant vessels. The Navy has seemingly begun enforcing its alleged authority to prevent the employment of armed guards on board and this has resulted in the arrest of members of the Nigerian Marine Police and consequent delays to the vessel and unresolved liabilities placed on the owners.

This appears to apply regardless of whether the armed guard policemen are sourced by an agent or a PMSC. There have also been reports of incidents of “blue on blue” where policemen have opened fire on Nigerian Naval vessels believing they were pirates and where seafarers have been killed or injured in the crossfire.

Apparently, the Marine Police and Police only have primacy and jurisdiction in “riverine” areas and ports and harbours out to the fairway buoy and no further.

The Joint Task Force (JTF) against terrorists, is a combined task force of navy and police, with a specific role to counter oil theft and smuggling in the Delta. The JTF is understood to have no jurisdiction outside this remit. The transit of supply vessels up the Bonny River to Port Harcourt is arranged by the JTF and these ships go in convoys (for a charge) whilst the offshore oil export Terminals are patrolled by private security units or the Nigerian Navy.

It would seem that the only legitimate method of acquiring armed security protection in territorial waters and the EEZ of Nigeria is by utilising the services of the Nigerian Navy (although, this seems to exclude armed guards on board vessels). BIMCO is presently seeking written confirmation of these facts.

Following this announcement, we received word on Friday that Nigerian Navy personnel had boarded a tanker at Lagos Roads, arresting the ex-pat Maritime Security Liaison Officer and the Nigerian Marine Police who had been contracted to guard the vessel. At present, we have yet to receive confirmation of this, but it represents a worrying new development in a region still suffering significant rates of maritime crime.

Operating in West African waters has always presented a unique challenge to European maritime security companies, thanks to the territorial nature of the Gulf of Guinea. What works in one country’s waters is unacceptable in another. Additionally, securing local guards of a high enough standard has also proven challenging for some providers.

Ideally, private maritime security companies (PMSC) would be allowed to provide the same level of service currently offered to clients in other regions, such as the Indian Ocean. However, given the political realities of the region, this is unlikely to happen. As a result, hijackings and crew kidnap still present a very real risk to the merchant marine community.