As Elections Loom Nigeria Looks to Take Control of Ships Carrying Munitions – Even Those with a Legitimate Purpose
NIGERIA – The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has apparently* warned the international shipping community, that it will not hesitate to detain any vessel entering the Country’s waters with security guards on board, whether or not they are armed, over fears that it could ‘threaten the peace and calm’ of Nigerian waters, a sentiment that has confused many especially after the recent attack on the Greek oil tanker Kalamos, which has seen three crewmembers taken hostage and the Deputy Captain killed, as she was waiting to load at the Qua Iboe Terminal in the south east of the country.
This warning came after NIMASA detained three vessels the Lilac Victoria, UACC Eagle and theMorgane apparently due to links to private overseas security firms, justifying its actions by saying that it was ‘worried that after cleansing Nigerian waters of the scourge of piracy, sea robbery and ship theft, a new threat now looms over the horizon as armed British guards are conspicuously discovered on the territorial waters’. The country is hardly free from pirate attacks, with the aforementioned Kalamos attack being the most recent incident reported in an area renowned for underreporting.
Critics say Nigeria is acting as an ostrich with its head in the sand if you believe the normally irreproachable statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) showing that, last year, there were a total of 18 reported attacks off the coast of Nigeria, with Dryad Maritime stating that only two attacks occurred inside the 12 nautical mile territorial waters. The IMB current comment on the status of the seas off the Nigerian coast reads thus:
“Pirates / robbers are often well armed, violent and have attacked, hijacked and robbed vessels / kidnapped crews along the coast, rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters. Attacks reported up to about 170 nautical miles from coast. Pirates have hijacked vessels for several days, ransacked and looted the crew and ship properties and stolen its cargo, usually gas oil. Crewmembers have been injured and kidnapped during the attacks. Generally, all waters in Nigeria remain risky. Vessels are advised to be vigilant, as many attacks may have gone unreported.”
International shipping association, BIMCO has urged its members to take heed of the NIMASA notice, which they say has be corroborated by other third party sources. Last year, NIMASA released a confusing security advisory appearing to ban the use of armed guards on board vessels, to which BIMCO appealed that its members adhered to, but this recent warning, particularly with the mention of ‘cleansed Nigerian waters’, could be seen to coincide coincidently with the upcoming Nigerian elections on February 14th (Update – now delayed to March 28), given that current President, Goodluck Jonathan, a native of the Niger Delta where attacks by pirates and Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) guerrillas are commonplace, has in the past been accused of failing to deal with the piracy problem (along with other issues such as terrorism and corruption). Director of Shipping Development at NIMASA, Captain Warredi Enisuoh said:
“Private registered security firms in collusion with unscrupulous officials have embarked on unconstitutional MoU’s and partnerships that threaten our national security. NIMASA has embarked on tackling this problem as it seems to be gaining tacit support underground as local Nigerian lawyers now intervene when they are arrested.
“There is no doubt that they come with arms hidden within the ship or throw them overboard when threatened with a search. The weapons they come with could be sold. This could well threaten the peace and calm we enjoy in our waters. The agency is, therefore, sounding a note of warning that any vessel that comes into Nigeria with a foreign guard, whether armed or unarmed will be detained.
“Ship operators, cargo owners and ship agents are hereby warned of the delays or possible forfeiture of their ships and cargo to the Federal Government, while those nationals will face the wrath of our laws.”
Given the situation which arose when Indian officials detained the US vessel Seaman Guard Ohioimprisoning the crew of 35 for, in some cases over a year, when arms were found aboard, despite the ship evidence that the ship was commissioned to guard a convoy of merchantmen, the presence of a serious munitions cache aboard was enough to stir Indian officials into action and there is no reason to think that Nigerian coastal patrols would be any more lenient if armed security details are discovered aboard cargo carriers.
* As is par for the course there is as yet no confirmation on the NIMASA website which usually runs items months after they thay have originally been mooted.