By Biodun Folarin
WorldStage Newsonline‚ÄîThe United States government is not comfortable with the alarming rate of insecurity on Nigeria’s territorial waters.
Consul-General of the United States Embassy in Nigeria, Mr. Jeffrey Hawkins said at the last day of the three days conference session of the Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX) 2013 in Lagos that the high rate of pirate attacks and armed robbery at sea in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea remains a major disincentive for foreign direct investment and a major burden to ships which have to travel through the region in convoy.
Speaking on the theme Doing Business in the Nigerian Maritime Industry, Hawkins, ‚Äúthere are a variety of obstacles that forestall the realization of Nigeria’s full maritime potential, which I’d like to focus on one area that to us is particularly and persistently troubling the growing incidence of criminal activities off of Nigeria’s coast, and what seems to be the ineffectual security response to those activities. Both the available data and the anecdotal evidence suggest that the situation is growing worsening, and we have difficulty seeing how it is going to get better in the near-term without major improvements in institutional collaboration, and a marked increase in political will.‚Äù
He said that International Maritime Bureau recently reported that sea piracy around the globe dropped substantially in 2012, to its lowest level in five years. Yet at the same time, the frequency of maritime attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has increased and increased significantly. The 1MB reported 10 attacks off Nigeria in 2011, then 27 attacks in 2012 and most people we’ve talked with have suggested the 1MB figures only account for a portion of actual incidents.‚Äù
The US Consul-General said that from cargo theft to kidnapping for ransom, the Gulf of Guinea is becoming known as a very dangerous place to do business.
‚ÄúIt 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 theoretically should have responsibilities other than serving as hired guns. It is becoming known as a place where maritime security enforcement is weak, when it exists at all – we’ve heard many accusations that entities involved in providing maritime security collude in some of the illegal activities that take place off of Nigeria‚Äôs coast. When the very bodies that are expected to protect and defend the maritime commerce that constitutes such an essential component of this country’s economic livelihood are instead perceived to be undermining it, I think we can all agree there‚Äôs a huge problem,‚Äù he stated.
He said that loss to the nation as a result of the criminal activities is more than the $7 billion usually bandied by representatives of the Federal Government.
‚ÄúThis is not just lost revenue that would otherwise enrich some faceless foreign corporation. This is revenue that could and should benefit the Nigerian people. And, yes, this is revenue that should reward vessel owners for their investment – and encourage them to invest more.
Hawkins further said¬† that though it’s not a simple problem to address, but it has been addressed success fully if not necessarily solved in other parts of the world. On an operational level, there are lessons to be learned, by emulating what works elsewhere in the world. In East Africa, for example, piracy attacks are down significantly which was accomplish by The International Maritime Organisation credits, among other things, effective coordination and communication among those providing security in the Gulf of Aden,‚Äù he said.
The US Consul-General said that there is no effective collaboration mechanism for the various maritime actors in Nigeria, on both a strategic and tactical level and that the intelligence about the location of ships conducting suspicious activities is not shared with those who could carry out operations to board and inspect the ships. That when players on the same team don’t communicate effectively with each other, nothing productive can be accomplished,‚Äù he said.