Scourge of oil theft and other maritime crimes: The African navies’ solution


Abuja Bureau Chief, Madu Onuorah, writes on the menace that has made Nigeria’s coast more dangerous than Somalia’s.

THE overarching scourge of maritime insecurity, which includes oil theft, piracy, kidnappings, drug trafficking and other illegal maritime activities in the Gulf of Guinea is assuming worsening dimensions as the days go by, and in the process, national and private economies, as well as human lives have been gravely hampered.

In view of this, stakeholders in national and international maritime security will converge in Calabar, Cross River State, from July 29 to 31, 2013, to strategise on how to halt the deterioration of security in the maritime waters of the Atlantic coast, especially Nigeria.

At the meeting, 12 Chiefs of Naval Staff and delegates from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the United States (U.S.) and European Union (EU) are expected to work out new strategies for coordinated regional and international response to these challenges.

The conference is being sponsored by the Nigerian Navy in collaboration with the U.S. Office of the Security Cooperation (OSC). Participating countries include Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Senegal, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola, Namibia and South Africa, as well as the Commanders of U.S. African Command and the U.S. Naval Forces, EU, Gulf of Guinea Commission, United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Joining them would be other Nigerian stakeholders, including the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), major oil producers, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), indigenous ship owners, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG).

The theme of the conference, which will be declared open by the Minister of State for Defence, Dr. Olusola Obada, is “Regional Maritime Awareness Capability Systems: A Key for Enhancing Maritime Security in the Gulf of Guinea.” Their task is simple – to halt the deterioration of security in the maritime waters of the Atlantic coast, especially Nigeria.

Truly, the cost to the region’s maritime interests has been enormous. At the continental level, chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said last month in Yaoundé, Cameroun, that in 2012 alone, piracy cost the region $2 billion, with some shipping companies avoiding the seaports they characterise as danger zones.

She added that Africa has lost $200 billion in five decades to illegal fishing and $100 billion to illegal bunkering since 2003. The Nigerian House of Representatives, bemoaning the “incessant, brazen and unbridled theft of crude,” put illegal crude oil bunkering at 300,000 barrels per day (or 67 per cent of Nigeria’s domestic consumption of 445,000 barrels per day).

Last week, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said that oil theft could be as high as 400,000 barrels per day, lamenting that this has led to a 17 per cent fall in official sale of Nigerian crude oil in the international market. With this, she said, Nigeria’s loss to oil thieves translate to about $l billion in revenue per month and $12 billion per annum. According to her, oil theft is the biggest challenge to the nation’s 2013 budget as there is now “oil quantity shock” shortfall of about 400,000 barrels per day of crude.

The NNPC Group Executive Director, Refining and Petrochemicals, Mr. Anthony Ogbugbe, further painted a more gloomy picture in a submission to the House Committee on Finance. Ogbugbe said: “The real challenge we have had is that the crude supply pipelines as well as the product evacuation pipelines have been subject to a lot of vandalism over the years.

According to him, loss of crude oil from the pipelines from Escravos to Warri in 2010 was 965,000 barrels while in 2011, the country lost 1.2 million barrels and in 2012, 1.2 million barrels. He added: “So just on that pipeline alone, we lost 6.4 million barrels within the last three years. In the line between Warri and Kaduna, which supplies the Kaduna Refinery, total loss amounted to 2.1 million barrels of crude oil.

“For the line from Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) facility in Ughelli up to Warri Refinery, the loss over the three years amounted to over 280,000 barrels of crude oil. For Bonny to Port Harcourt, the loss was over 2.9 million barrels over the last three years.”

At the Extractive Business Dialogue on Corruption, which was organised by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, SPDC Managing Director, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, blamed well-financed and highly organised criminals for crude oil theft in the Niger Delta, stating that they run a parallel industry with a “developed supply chain and growing sophistication.”

He noted: “I am worried about the incredible growth of oil theft and illegal refining activities over the last couple of years. I am worried as a Nigerian and you all should be worried too. Our economy loses about $6 billion annually to illegal bunkering.”

Sunmonu warned that crude oil theft has reached a crisis situation, adding that Nigerians and all stakeholders should be worried about the devastation on the environment and a situation where sabotage and oil theft accounted for about 75 per cent of the oil spilled in SPDC’s facilities. He added: “In 2012, they accounted for over 95 per cent of the volume of oil spilled.”

The present state of affairs in Nigeria made the London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB), an international piracy monitoring agency, to report that the Gulf of Guinea has overtaken Somalia as the world’s new hub of oil theft, illegal bunkering, piracy, kidnappings and armed robbery. The piracy reporting centre had earlier warned that the seas off Benin, Nigeria’s neighbour, had emerged a new piracy “hotspot” due to the weak enforcement capabilities of governments in the region.

In August last year, the London-based Lloyd’s Market Association Рan umbrella group of insurers Рlisted Nigeria, neighbouring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish. And same last year, the Gulf of Guinea area confirmed its new position as the hotbed of pirates’ attack with incidents involving 966 sailors, compared with 851 in Somalia.

The IMB also estimated that the cost of stolen goods alone in the Gulf of Guinea in 2012 was between 25 and 75 million euros ($33 million to $100 million). Last week, it reported that this year alone, the Gulf of Guinea suffered 31 actual and attempted attacks by pirates, including four ships that were hijacked. Out of this number, Nigeria had 22 reported attacks, up from six in all of 2011. Somalia, in comparison, had four attacks, compared to 125 in 2011. Only Indonesia reported more attacks than Nigeria, with 48 so far this year.

In 2012, 45 per cent of maritime crimes were committed on Nigerian borders, Togo recorded 25 per cent, Ghana had three per cent, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), three per cent, Cameroun, five per cent, Sierra Leone, two per cent, Benin Republic, three per cent and Cote d’Ivoire, two per cent.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) also listed recorded attacks to include 58 in 2011 and 45 in 2012, 34 of which occurred between January and September of the same year as against 30 in 2011 during the same period. The Nigerian Navy disclosed that the country records between 10 to 15 piracy attacks monthly on its stretch of the Gulf of Guinea.

Last month, the Joint War Committee, which groups syndicate members from the Lloyd’s Market Association as well as representatives from London’s insurance company market, added Togo to its list of high risk areas for merchant shipping, which already includes Nigeria and Benin, reflecting the worsening risks. According to the IMB Manager, Cyrus Moody, “generally, all waters in Nigeria remain risky. Vessels are advised to be vigilant as many attacks may have gone unreported.”

The issue of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and regional counter-terrorism initiatives topped the agenda of the 32nd ordinary session of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff (CCDS), which held in Accra, Ghana, on June 26, 2013. It was also the main issue at last June’s Summit of Heads of State and Governments of ECCAS, ECOWAS, Gulf of Guinea Commission and the African Union Commission in Yaoundé.

The leaders came under the United Nations Resolution 2039 of February 2012 for the Gulf of Guinea Region, where 200 million people are living under the threat of piracy and transnational maritime crimes. They reviewed and adopted series of measures that were previously reviewed at the March 2013 inter-ministerial conference in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin.

This means that there is no maritime state of the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) that is not facing tremendous security challenges in its maritime domain. But Nigeria, being the leading maritime nation in the GoG states, has led the battle, especially within its territorial and coastal waters. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Nigeria lays sovereign claim to 12 nautical miles of territorial seas and jurisdictional claims to 200nm of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

This translates to about 5,040 square nm of sovereign territory and 84,000 square nm of EEZ, meaning that Nigeria’s maritime area is about one third of its land size. The Nigerian Navy is also expected to secure about 159 fixed platforms fed by over 700 wells, 13 floaters and 20 Floating Pump Stations Offshore. Oil and gas accounts for 40 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 95 per cent of the nation’s total export and 83 per cent of its total revenue.

President Goodluck Jonathan has held meetings with both local and foreign stakeholders on the issue. Speaking at the Presidential Retreat on Maritime Sector in July last year, Jonathan said “it is extremely embarrassing that it is only in Nigeria that crude oil is stolen.

“It is a very bad news and I believe that Nigerians and foreigners who are indulging in this act need to throw their heads under the pillow because all over the world, it is only in Nigeria that crude oil is stolen. We are not the only oil producing country. Why is it that it is only in Nigeria that people steal crude oil? This must stop.”

In a meeting last year with British Prime Minister, David Cameron, President Jonathan pleaded for Britain’s assistance to stem the big oil theft in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. He told Cameron that stolen oil from the Nigeria is shipped abroad, where it is refined and sold in the international market.

Describing the crime as “blood oil,” he called for sanctions for all those involved in the illegal trade. He further challenged the group of industrialized nations to take a stand against oil theft similar to the one taken on money laundering by public office holders.

President of Cote d’Ivoire and Chairman of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State, Alassane Ouattara, told delegates at a summit convened to tackle the menace: “I invite the international community to show the same firmness in the Gulf of Guinea as it has demonstrated in the Gulf of Aden, where the presence of international naval forces has allowed for a drastic reduction in maritime piracy.”

On October 8, 2012, after decorating the new Chief of Defence Staff and Service Chiefs, President Jonathan charged the Nigerian military, especially the Navy, to lead the charge in curbing this menace. And same day, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba, told Naval personnel that crude oil theft and illegal bunkering would be top priority. These efforts led to major arrests by the Navy and the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta. But it did not stop the pirates and oil thieves from being emboldened more.

Minister of State for Defence, Dr. Obada, said last June in Abuja that a total of 1,653 suspects have been arrested while 3,778 illegal refineries have been destroyed in the last one year in the ongoing anti-illegal bunkering patrols by the JTF’s Operation PULO SHIELD in the Niger Delta. In addition, 120 barges, 878 Cotonou boats, 161 tanker trucks, 178 illegal fuel dumps and 5,238 surface tanks were also destroyed by the task force within the same period.

Obada noted that while the Nigerian military has “enhanced protection of oil and gas facilities through air and ground patrols of pipeline networks to deter vandals from sabotage activities, troops were deployed at most critical platforms on a 24/7 basis to enhance their security. While criminality in the industry has not been completely eliminated, efforts of the Joint Task Force have reduced the level of crude oil theft drastically.”

But while there have been major arrests within the coastal waters and pipeline installations, not much has been achieved in the territorial waters. This is because the bulk of piracy and oil theft is executed within this area in the GoG. In fact, a source told The Guardian that the reason the GoG has taken over from the Somali coast as the major theatre of piracy is that “as the Somali pirates were being flushed from their operational base by the coalition of international Navies, they relocated to the Nigerian area of the Gulf of Guinea.

There are now physical attacks on vessels within the region, and they have added a new dimension of physical attacks, including robbing the vessels, especially in Cote d’Ivoire. These criminals, who originally focused on piracy, are imposing new risks in the area through illegal bunkering and stealing of fisheries.

And they are no more just Nigerian illegal bunkerers or oil thieves, they now have network of criminal allies in each country of the region. And these oil thieves now have their own tankers. It is no more just a Nigerian or GoG issue but a continental security challenge. Obada spoke further: “While the non-state actors and criminals are networking among themselves to rob the states of their natural resources, undermine their revenue base through widespread smuggling, attack shipping, smuggle people, drugs and small arms, states in the GoG have tended to tackle the problem from purely national efforts.

“This approach cannot work because the criminals don’t respect borders and are increasingly getting bolder in their nefarious activities. The United States has assisted many African states to establish coastal surveillance stations. Yet, these countries do not share information obtained from these stations among themselves. It is like the states are refusing to recognize that they are faced with a common problem and that only a collaborative and collective effort will solve the problem.”

Therefore, the aim of the Calabar conference is to examine the modalities for improving information sharing and enhancing their operations with a view to improving the general maritime situation among the co-operating states. Originally, the U.S. introduced the Automatic Identification System (AIS) aimed at identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships, AIS base stations and satellites.

However, typical of African nations, instead of cooperating under the AIS system to fight maritime crimes, each country limited itself to its own territorial waters, responding to threats without networking with the other Navies. With this, the U.S. went further to install the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC), which is integrated into the Maritime Safety and Security Information System, a global database to track ships all over the world.

The U.S. Navy-funded RMAC programme is already installed in 10 centres within Nigeria, including Badagry in Lagos, Ibaka in Akwa Ibom State and Bonny in Rivers State. It is a coastal surveillance programme that uses an automatic identification system and ground-based radar and sensors to enhance awareness of maritime traffic.

It functions just like the Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) designed for command and control by both military and national (civilian-located ATC) interrogation systems and it is used to identify aircraft, vehicles or forces as friendly and to determine their bearing and range from the interrogator.

But while the U.S. and others are assisting from outside, within Nigeria, it is like the citizens are just waking up to the reality that oil theft has began a war against Nigeria through other means. And true to the Nigerian situation, the blame game has started. There are already recriminations on the perpetrators of oil theft. Generally, it is believed that this crime has festered because its sponsors are well-connected elements within the nation’s political, business, security and legal elite.

According to the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Kingsley Kuku, “what is happening is a conspiracy between international buyers of the crude and some highly-placed individuals in tandem with those with the technical know-how in the oil firms to siphon crude through ruptured pipelines and large vessels. When you consider that the theft is also carried out in the deep sea oil locations, you will agree that the ordinary Niger Delta people do not have the sophistication and technical expertise to rupture those pipelines nor the high-grade vessels to cart away the stolen crude.

“This is not a crime committed ordinarily by poor people. It is a crime committed by a very organised people, and it is a matter of demand and supply. If there are no international buyers, there will be no local suppliers. This is the essence of the battle.”

Expectedly, the oil workers, under the aegis of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) shot back last Friday.

They stated: “We challenge the authorities on its readiness to join forces with the national and states’ intelligence, defence and security agencies in the patriotic crusade to completely unearth and get to the bottom of this grievous international criminality and national calamity so that both the Nigerian public and international community, some of whom already know and relate with the culprits or the syndicates, will not be deceived or fooled.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, carried the Federal Government’s new focus on the issue to the members of the diplomatic corps. In a meeting with them last Friday, Ashiru stated: “Oil theft has remained a major challenge facing the country as we have continued to lose huge revenues arising from these criminal activities. We will not tolerate again any criminal activities of oil theft on our water coasts. So, warn your countries’ nationals to desist from these criminal activities.

“However, you must cooperate with us to address the international dimension to this scourge. The Nigeria Navy and NIMASA have been directed to take firm measures against any ship caught engaging in unwholesome activities, including oil theft in Nigeria’s territory.”

There is also a lack of diligent prosecution of vessels, crew and others involved in oil theft and other maritime crimes. According to the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ezeoba, “the lack of diligent prosecution of arrested suspects by responsible agencies, such as the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Police is responsible for the rising oil theft in the Niger Delta.

“The law enforcement agencies responsible for prosecution should ensure that the culprits caught are charged to court, prosecuted and jailed. That will serve as deterrent to would-be perpetrators. What we find is that there is more of the surveillance and response but that of enforcement is negligible. It frustrates the efforts of the officers and men, who put their lives on the line to fight this scourge.”

Perhaps, in answer to this, the National Economic Council (NEC) last Thursday approved the establishment of a Legal Task Force charged with the responsibility of prosecuting proven cases of oil theft, using the relevant laws, especially the Miscellaneous Offences Act.

The proposed committee, which is to be headed by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), would also have representatives from the NNPC, the Armed Forces, Civil Defence, Police, SSS and other related agencies. The task force is to be in force for one year with effect from July 2013.


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