BY MOSES EBOSELE
THE United States of America (USA) has ¬†advised the¬† Federal Government to tackle¬† activities of pirates along ¬†Nigeria‚Äôs waterways.
Speaking at the just concluded 2013¬† Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX), ¬†in Lagos, the Consul General, United State Embassy, Jeffrey Hawkins, blamed the development of alleged¬† lack of communications ¬†and cohesion among security agencies charged with the responsibility of protecting Nigeria‚Äôs waterways.
He advised the Federal Government to develop the political will to tackle the menace, adding¬† that since the beginning of this year, over a dozen attacks have been recorded.
‚ÄúIndeed, we (US) heard report of two dozen attacks ¬†since January 1 of this year. The criminal activities-whether armed robbery or piracy or kidnapping extends along Nigeria‚Äôs coastline.
‚ÄúOn February 4, in the lagos anchorage. On February 6, along the River Forcados. On February 7, off Brass. On February 10¬† and 11, ¬†two separate attacks off Bonny. On February 17, two separate attacks, one in Lagos and one off Brass. On February 22, again off Brass, and on February 25, in Calabar Channel. And that‚Äôs just three weeks in February‚Äù, said Hawkins.
He added ‚ÄúWe (US) have talked with a lot of individuals associated with Nigeria‚Äôs maritime¬† environment in the past few months. Nigerians and expatriate alike-and I would like to share with you some of what we have heard.
‚ÄúFrom cargo theft to kidnapping for ransom, the Gulf of Guinea is becoming known as a very dangerous place to do business. It is becoming known as a place where you must sail in convoys and where you must hire armed guards- who themselves are Nigerian police officers or sailors and rhetorically should have responsibilities other than serving as hired guns.
‚ÄúThe Gulf is becoming known as a place where you must prepare your crew to be attacked at any time. It is becoming known as a place where maritime security enforcement is weak, when it exists at all.¬† ¬†We have heard many accusations that entities involved in providing maritime security collude in some of the illegal activities that take place off Nigeria‚Äôs coast.
‚ÄúWhen the very bodies that are expected to protect and defend the maritime commerce that constitutes such an essential component of this country‚Äôs economic livelihood are instead perceived to be undermining it, I think we can all agree there‚Äôs a problem‚Äù, said the Consul General.
He recalled that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB)recently reported that sea piracy around the globe dropped substantially in 2012 to its lowest level in five years, ‚Äúyet at the same time, the frequency of ¬†attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has increased and increased significantly.
‚ÄúThe IMB reported ten attacks off Nigeria in 2011, then 27 attacks in 2012 and most people we have talked with have suggested that IMB figures only account for a portion of the actual incident‚Äù.
He admitted that though it is not a simple problem to address, ‚Äúbut it has been addressed successfully- if not necessarily solved in other parts of the world‚Äù.
Explaining further, he said: ‚ÄúOn an operational level, there are lessons to be learned, by emulating what works elsewhere in the world.
‚ÄúIn East Africa, for example, piracy attacks are down significantly. What have they done to accomplish this? The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) credits among others things, effective coordination and communications among those providing security in the Gulf of Aden.
‚ÄúWe have heard repeatedly that there is no effective collaboration mechanism for the various maritime actors in Nigeria, on both¬† a strategic and tactical level‚Äù.
To reverse the trend, he said success will require detailed strategy including elements such as anti-piracy best practices published by the IMO.
‚ÄúIt will require naval training in tactics that have been proven effective and I am proud that members of the U.S Coast¬† Guards are delivering such training to members of your navy‚Äôs Special Boats Services as we speak. It will require spending money on vessels, on personnel, on fuel and maintenance. It will require on-ongoing patrols in the inland waterways and off Nigeria‚Äôs coast.