The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is partnering with the Nigerian Air force to provide air surveillance of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), boosting air and water capabilities in addressing the menace of piracy and criminality on the country’s territorial waters. Andrew Airahuobhor reports.
As Nigeria battles to come out from the list of areas with dangerous waters, the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Airforce, seems to be a veritable platform to achieving it.
The Agency’s capacity to tackle illegalities at sea is further strengthened by the statutory role of the Nigerian Airforce in defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria by Air and their establishment of a reputable and efficient maritime capability in the Gulf of Guinea through their ATR 42 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and other platforms.
The Gulf of Guinea, which covers Nigerian waters, is regarded as the most dangerous waters after the Somalia and the Gulf of Aden waters. Nigerian waters has also been designated a “war-risk zone” by the International Protection and Indemnity (P&I) Clubs for purposes of maritime insurance on vessels, cargo and crew destined for Nigerian ports.
This means that vessels and cargo owners have had to pay higher premium on their insurance policies, but the cost is passed on to the end users of the products carried by the vessels.
The current prevailing maritime security challenges in Nigeria waters include: Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea; Oil theft and pipeline vandalisation; Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUUF); Dumping of waste & other matters; Illegal bunkering; Human trafficking and Smuggling of small arms and ammunitions.
Specifically, Nigeria is blessed with a vast coastline of about 853km with a multitude of economic activities, including various types of shipping and other maritime operations. Nigeria’s economy is largely dependent on crude oil export and these accounts for about 80 per cent of government revenue and 95 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.
The country also accounts for over 65 per cent of total maritime traffics, in volume and value, into West and Central Africa. This placed the Nigerian maritime domain in the position of key destination for international ships, including tankers of all sizes, said Matthew Egbadon, legal practitioner.
NIMASA, Navy, Airforce MoU
Following the success of its MoU with the Nigerian Navy, NIMASA signed another MoU with the Airforce on August 26, 2013, with a view to further enhancing the Agency’s capacity in enforcing extant maritime laws as well as to monitor and secure the Nigeria’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
In line with the partnership, an ATR 42 surveillance aircraft, equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Radar, is being deployed for air surveillance of the country’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The AIS can see shipping activities within 160 nautical miles.
During the Airshow on Tuesday, officials explained that the surveillance aircraft is equipped with Electro Optical Surveillance and Tracking System (EOST45), which houses three cameras- Long range television, Colour television and Multi Fieldview Thermal Imager (MFTI).
From a safe distance in the air, the aircraft can monitor shipping operations on the waters with live feed being transmitted to the base station, and when suspicious activities are observed, a team is deployed immediately to address the situation. It is a similar process when distress calls are received.
Director General of NIMASA, Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, said on Monday at a maritime Stakeholders’ Sensitization Conference in Lagos, that the partnership between NIMASA and Airforce has recorded tremendous successes in the area of air and coastal surveillance and the exercise of the right of hot pursuit.
It was also aimed to check rising incidences of and increased sophistication of pirates, armed robbery at sea and other unlawful activities in Nigerian waters.
Akpobolokemi said NIMASA opted for collaboration with relevant agencies of Government in order to have a seamless execution of its statutory mandates in relation to Maritime Security, Safety and Search and Rescue.
“The essence of this Sensitization Conference is therefore to put you on notice and draw your attention to the purpose of the partnership between NIMASA and the Nigerian Airforce and the efforts made by both agencies in fostering and promoting maritime safety and security as well as to get a feedback on ways to better the scope of the partnership,” he said.
Former director general of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Temisan Omatseye, said due to security issues, insurance premium paid on ships operating in Nigerian waters is high. “Just staying 5 degree east, that is escravos area and Port Harcourt area, a ship owner is charged additional war risk of 1,000 dollars a day for everyday you remain in that area. This is just for war risk.”
He said as far as the insurance company is concerned, Nigerian waters is too porous, therefore, there is a likelihood of attack. “After Somalia, Nigerian waters are next”.
24-hour Satellite Surveillance Centre in Lagos
NIMASA has assured stakeholders in the maritime sector of safety on Nigeria’s waterways with the take-off of its 24-hour Satellite Surveillance Centre in Lagos, which will help curb piracy.
The satellite system, launched last month would provide a safety net for corporate bodies and individuals who transact businesses within the Nigerian waters. The surveillance system had already recorded a success story as the facility was deployed to the rescue of a Ghanaian flagged vessel, which was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Ghana last month.
NIMASA surveillance is now three-pronged with the satellite system added to the existing aerial and aquatic powers.
“With the NIMASA Satellite Surveillance Centre, it is easy to respond to any distress call on Nigerian waters and even beyond. The new 24-hour Satellite Surveillance equipment has the capability to detect boats, ships and objects of predefined cross-section floating on water. It includes any aircraft that ditches and remains on the surface during satellite over-flight. Its abilities further include but are not limited to setting range rings and restricted areas for which when penetrated by an intruder, the system gives an alarm thereby alerting the operator or watch keeper,” said Capt. Ezekiel Agaba, executive director, maritime safety and shipping development of NIMASA.
The agency is said to be concluding the installation of the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) at Takwa Bay in Lagos, which when fully integrated with the satellite system, would provide full domain awareness for Nigeria’s waterways. The facility is equipped with VHF Radio, satellite phones and the IMARSAT, among other security features.
NIMASA management said the Agency had further strengthened safety within the Nigerian sea shores through a vigorous compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. As at August last year, 22 port facilities in Nigeria were certified compliant with the ISPS Code, a significant increase from only nine port facilities during the previous visit of the United States Coast Guard to Nigerian ports. The figure is expected to rise when the report of the ISPS Code compliance team visit to Nigeria last April is published.
Warrendi Enisuoh, director, maritime safety of NIMASA, noted that with the surveillance equipment, NIMASA would be able to monitor even the “unusual movement of vessels” at sea and keep their records. He said it will also help in NIMASA’s maritime safety operations, search-and-rescue (SAR) mission and environmental protection.
Impact of criminal acts on Nigerian waters
The consequences of the acts of Maritime Security breaches on Nigeria are both tangible and intangible. According to Matthew Egbadon, principal partner, Highfliers Solicitors, Lagos, who heads the legal team for the MoU.
He said that some of the negative impacts of these acts include loss of revenue to government, Flight of Existing and Potential Investors, Increase in Cost of Doing Business and “Injury” to national pride.
“One obvious intangible injury to the nation, is the frequent “assault” on its pride among the comity of nations. Whenever issues of maritime security breaches are discussed at international fora, Nigeria water is mentioned after Somalia. The consequential damage caused by this to the nation’s reputation cannot be quantified in monetary terms. This is unacceptable because there is no basis for comparing Nigeria with a failed state, like Somalia,” he said in a presentation delivered on The Legal Basis and Justification for the Memorandum of Understanding between the Nigerian Airforce and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency in Fostering Maritime Safety and Security in Nigeria.
He added that: “Although NIMASA is vested with Statutory powers to ‘regulate and promote maritime safety and security’ in our waters, it is not a military outfit and its staff cannot bear firearms. It does not have the capacity to effectively carry out its duties all by itself. The Agency has therefore resorted to collaborating and coordinating with other Security Agencies in discharging its statutory functions of protecting our waters and its resources.”
Legal basis for NIMASA, Airforce MoU
According to him, the Nigeria Air Force and NIMASA MoU is one of those contractually binding agreement. The areas of co-operation between the two institutions specifically are: Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Operations; Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations at sea; Tactical Airlift Operations, Enforcement Action that include, but not limited to, anti-piracy, anti-smuggling, illegal bunkering and illegal fishing activities; and Hot pursuit, as may be carried out within the level permitted under International Law and NAF Operational guidelines.
Egbadon said the MoU is broadly encompassing, to enable smooth operations of parties involved. In this wise it covers, Strategic, Operational, Logistics and Administrative Measures, as highlighted in Article 2 of the MoU.
Also, awareness programmes and conferences are designed for personnel/staff and stakeholders to keep them abreast of the partnership under the MoU, one of which was done on Monday.
“The MOU takes proper cognisance of legal and diplomatic implications of the enforcement of actions carried out there-under. These are covered by clearly defined protocols that will govern the MoU. See Articles 1.3 and 4.
“It is important to underscore the point that under the MoU, the NAF will play a limited role in maritime safety and security implementation. The rules of engagement are very clear: (a) There must be authorization by the competent authority; (b) There must be a just cause or purpose for the engagement; (c) The methods used must be proportionate; and (d) The engagement must be a last resort.”
He said the ecosystem of the gulf of Guinea region is a source of global interest. Apart from its openness to the Atlantic Ocean, countries of the region like Nigeria, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and lately Ghana, are endowed with abundant natural resources such as crude oil, diamond and gold.
The region is also very rich in fishery and agricultural resources which have significant economic importance to the increasing food security challenge in the world.
In addition, the countries in the Gulf of Guinea has a large population of about three hundred and fifty million people and hence provide a significant market for imported goods and this has contributed to making the sea lanes in the region ever busy.
Thus, there is a compelling need for all relevant agencies of government to collaborate in other to frontally confront the menace of maritime breaches, and the MOU between the NAF and NIMASA is one of such platforms.