Piracy and the Fate of Nigerian Shippers

With the latest report released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB),   ranking the Gulf of Guinea as having overtaken Somalia in piracy menace, Nigeria and other ECOWAS leaders  are stepping up efforts to police the coastal waters in the  region, reports Francis Ugwoke
The latest report by the  International Maritime Bureau (IMB) that Nigeria has  now overtaken Somalia  in terms of pirate attacks in West African  sub-region is no doubt of serious concern to all international traders and indeed  the Federal Government. This is considering the implication on the national economy. This also explains the recent meeting of African leaders which focused on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea held in Cameroun.  Already, Nigeria is contesting the decision of the European shipowners to hike shipping charges on goods coming to the country as a result of increasing piracy. The decision to hike charges was taken early last year by the shipowners who argue that vessels operating in the Gulf of Guinea are being attacked on regular intervals.  Between 2011 and in recent time, there have been indeed spontaneous attacks on vessels which resulted in the death of some crew members on board as well as loss of cargoes.

IMB Report Against Nigeria, Others
In the IMB report, 966 seafarers were attacked by pirates in West Africa, including Nigeria in 2012 as against 851 off the Somali waters. The report showed that 206 of the hostages seized by pirates were killed.  The world maritime organisation is probably worried that the pirates steal mostly wet cargoes, money from the  crew   in addition to violence.  The petroleum products seized are usually sold to willing  buyers in the black market. In Somali, the pirates, usually hijack vessels and wait  for ransom to be paid  before letting the  seafarers and ships go. The Somali case was so serious about two years ago that the  International Maritime Organisation (IMO) moved forces to address the problem.  Described as the deadliest  over the decades, Somali coast  is  so  dangerous that  the IMO and other   governments had to  raise a special security to   protect ships passing through the coast. Somali has been notorious in piracy for decades.

High Shipping Charges by shipowners
Early last year, following reports of increased piracy on the Gulf of Guinea, the European shipowners quickly held a meeting and swiftly introduced new shipping charges for goods  coming to Nigeria and other West African countries.  The shipowners, according to importers have continued to raise charges since then. Indications are that with the latest  official report  about  Nigeria   overtaking Somalia  in piracy, the shipowners may even consider more  hike in premium risk charges.

Efforts by NIMASA to Tackle Piracy
The nation’s apex maritime body which is  saddled with security on  the   territorial  waters has been making  efforts to address the issue of piracy.   It was for this reason that the agency engaged the services of Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL)  to provide special security on vessels operating on the nation’s territorial waters. This is in addition to the collaboration between the Nigerian Navy and the agency.  It would be recalled that the GWVSL had  last year lost  its Managing Diector, Capt. Romeo Itima,  in the  war against  oil thieves in  Escravos, Warri. Director General of  NIMASA, Mr Patrick  Akpbolokemi  had told newsmen  that  the activities  of the pirates  have a way of  impacting negatively on  attracting foreign investment to the country.

As at last year, NIMASA   requested  the engagement of  124 military personnel  who will be part of its Maritime Guard Command (MGC), a unit that is part of  the  policing of  the  territorial waters.  To a large extent, the  unit has recorded arrests of   pirates and checked the activities of oil thieves  encouraging  illegal refineries.  Perhaps, what has been the handicap of the agency is the fact that some of the suspects arrested have had to escape justice  as NIMASA  does not have the power of prosecution.  The Deputy Director, Public Relations, Mr Isichei Osambi told THISDAY that  the agency  is on top of the situation  in checking  piracy on the nation’s territorial waters. Osambi said that Akpobolokemi in his concern about having safe territorial waters  has ordered  24- hour  policing of the  Nigerian waters to protect  all types of vessels.  NIMASA apart from having  security presence in Nigerian waters   is also policing the  coastal waters of Benin Republic because of the link with Nigeria.

Moves by  African Leaders to Check Piracy
Apparently worried about the negative impact of  piracy on the West African  region, President Goodluck Jonathan  and other African leaders met in Cameroun  recently to discuss how to address the problem. It was a special summit of Heads of State and Governments of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) on maritime security in the region. Jonathan   told journalists at the end of the  meeting  that since the highest number of attacks take place on the Nigerian waters, his administration will expand  cooperation with other  African countries to check the  activities  of the sea  robbers.  “The only way we can contain it is for the countries within the Central African region and West African region to come together.  Already, Nigeria and Benin Republic have been partnering but we need
to expand across the coast, the West African coast and the Central African coast. So this is the beginning of the end of these excesses of piracy, so we are quite pleased with the conference”, he said.

The Camerounian  Minister of External Relations, Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo, in a communique  released after the meeting,  said the member states of the three blocs-ECOWAS, ECCAS and GGC agreed  on a coalition for a multi-lateral assistance amongst all the 25 members against pirates.

Position of  Stakeholders  on  Piracy
Stakeholders who  spoke to THISDAY  on the issue of piracy on the Gulf of Guinea  said that the issue is being blown out of proportion.  The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello, who said that  the  issue of piracy is a matter of evidence, expressed concern  on the decision of the European shipowners to increase  shipping charges on claims of piracy  in the Gulf of Guinea. Maintaining that the  shipowners will retrace their steps on the issue as  the  federal government  has taken up the matter, Bello  said  that what is happening  include offences committed on board the ship.
A member of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport,  Prof  Benedict Ayade,  told THISDAY that the issue is being exaggerated. Ayade regretted that Nigeria  was  not in  IMO  to contest some of the claims on piracy as far as  the Gulf of  Guinea  is concerned.  “If we  were  in IMO, we will play a very major role in evaluating the risk  levels that  have been attached in the  Gulf of  Guinea. A situation  in which the Gulf of Guinea has been rated as the most pirate-prone route  and premiums have gone  up in all the vessels…… I think the assessment is unfair. The Gulf of Guinea has not suffered the level of piracy that I know  in other routes. Why the Gulf of Guinea in the whole world!”

Senator Ayade added,  “So, it calls for worry and that is why Nigeria must be part of IMO, so that we have a voice.  Look at the Singaporean experience, they put a team together, they gathered statistics globally and argued that Singapore is not the place  you must give that high rating of  piracy. And within  one year, they dropped their name from the list, because they fought back. Because they had a team, they had articulated their position based on international statistics. That is why we must come in this year, because if we don’t do that, the premium must continue for every vessel coming to Nigeria, the insurance premium…. you will pay through your nose . That will add  to the  domestic cost and goods in Nigeria”.

The Secretary General of Institute of Marine Engineers,  Engr. Alexander Peters  who also  described the  claims of IMB as exaggerated however said this has been the reason  for the increase in shipping  charges.  Peters said that the only solution was for the government   to step up action  to  check the activities of pirates. He   maintained that Nigeria cannot  be in the same ranking with Somalia  in  piracy. “Somalia is a failed state, and Nigeria is not a failed state. In Nigeria, government is on ground to check pirates and they don’t have the kind of freedom they enjoy in Somalia. He called for long term plan to check the pirates rather than short term.  He said that government must work hard on ensuring that the pirates who  thrive on hijacking petroleum products do not get buyers, adding that  this measure will make piracy unattractive.

Via: http://www.thisdaylive.com/

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