COVID-19 Spike Piracy Attacks On Nigerian Waters

…As Experts Urge NIMASA To Implement GMSC Communique

By DAPO OLAWUNI

Fresh indications have shown that Nigeria is experiencing a spike in piracy attacks, kidnapping for ransome, sea robbery and other maritime offenses due to the hardships of COVID-19 and the attendant lockdown in the country.

This is even as maritime experts have called on the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to expedite implementation of the resolutions at the Global Maritime Security Conference (GMSC) hosted in Nigeria 2019. The conference was geared towards finding lasting solutions to piracy in Gulf of Guinea.

A maritime expert confirmed to DAILY TREND NEWS that “Kidnappings in the waters have now increased, we might be experiencing all these as post COVID-19 problems, this is because many of the youths are hungry and a lot of things would go wrong at this period, the earlier the government look at putting measures in place, the better for everybody in Nigeria”

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in the first quater of 2020 alone, there has been 47 pirate attacks around the world, and 21 of these attacks were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea.

Investigations carried out by DAILY TREND NEWS revealed that COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria has further exercerbated the hunger and desperation felt by perpetrators of piracy, experts say most of the act are mostly, jobless seafarers who have graduated at various maritime schools around the country with no seatime or reasonable employment.

Our correspondent keeping track of some of the attacks in Nigerian waters reported that on February 14th, a container ship MAERSK TEMA was boarded by at least two pirates, about 80NM NW of Sao Tome.

Also on February 20th, there was an attack against the Liberia-flagged crude oil tanker ALPINE PENELOPE which resulted in the kidnapping of 9 crewmembers off the shores of Nigeria.

In March 2020, the Hong Kong cargo vessel HUANGHAI GLORY was reportedly attacked around 1830 UTC on March 5th, approximately 84NM South of Lagos, Nigeria.

Earlier the same day, two other incidents occurred at 118NM and 75NM West of the same attack position. A suspicious approach was reported by a tanker in the Togolese EEZ while another tanker, the Greece-flagged MINERVA VIRGO, was later attacked and successfully boarded by armed men while in the Beninese EEZ. The three incidents appear to be connected as they likely have been perpetrated by the same Nigerian pirates.

In April, a Product tanker VEMAHOPE was reportedly attacked by pirates at around 1930 UTC Apr 30 in Gulf of Guinea, and 10 seafarers were kidnapped some 175 nm S of Lagos.

In May, a Nigerian-flagged hopper dredger Ambika was boarded by pirates after a firefight resulting in multiple loss of life.
According to Dryad, the Ambika was attacked while operating just offshore, about three nm from the mouth of the Ramos river and about nine nm to the east of the Forcados offshore oil terminal.

A firefight broke out between the embarked security team on the Ambika and the pirates. Four military armed guards were killed and two were injured, Dryad understands.

Three foreign crewmembers (including two Russian nationals and one Indian) were abducted. Five other crewmembers were left behind.

Also in May 2020, 10 pirates had on 15th attacked and boarded a Chinese vessel, MV HAILUFANG II, off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire and directed it towards Nigerian waters. Luck however ran out on them as they were arrested by the Nigerian Navy, which dispatched a ship to intercept the vessel after it got an alert.

The prosecution of the pirates would now be the first trial of bandits arrested in international waters under the NIMASA sponsored Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act signed into law in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari.

In June 2020, Nigeria had handed over 51 crew members, including 48 Ghanians and three South Korea nationals to the government of Ghana and Korea respectively. The vessel which had authorisation to fish in Ghana and Benin waters, was arrested by the Nigerian Navy around Lagos waters.The Automatic Identification System (AIS) was switched off after being suspected to be used for piracy or being used as a mother ship to conduct piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

The latest attacks in July 2020 revealed saw pirates attacking a Norwegian vessel off the coast of Nigeria on Thursday and kidnapped nine Nigerian nationals onboard.
The Sendje Berge, an offshore support vessel for the oil and gas industry, came under attack at 03:20 GMT.

Apart from these, Pacific International Lines (PIL) confirmed that the Singapore-registered, 27,379 dwt Kota Budi had been attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea on 2 July at 23-35hrs (local time). The shipowner said that five Chinese crew members, including the Master, had been taken and presumed kidnapped.

Speaking exclusively with DAILY TREND NEWS, President of Nigerian Institute of Shipping (NIS) and Deputy Registrar of Ship for the Liberian Maritime Authority, Capt Tony Onaharigho lamented that since NIMASA spent millions of Naira to host the Global Maritime Security Conference in October 2019, there has not been any effort to implement the resolutions.
Recall that experts from over 80 nations had gathered in Abuja last year to proffer solutions on a wide spectrum of maritime security and development issues in the Gulf of Guinea region.

Capt Onaharigho advised that if NIMASA was going to record success in implementation of the Supression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Law, they should take cognisance look into all that were discussed during the Abuja maritime security conference.

Speaking, he said “Piracy has been a problem to us for a long time, and this was why Nigeria hosted the Gulf of Guinea Conference in Abuja last year.
If a lot of stringent measures are not put in place to contain the piracy, it would escalate further like the COVID-19 this year”

“Whatever you are doing, you must start applying solutions on time, the Anti Piracy Law is a welcomed development to improve the safety standards of our waterways and kick against the Kidnapping and Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea which is the gateway to West Africa”

“But, let NIMASA enforce it properly and ensure that all the protocols that were put together during the Gulf of Guinea Conference is implemented”

“Nigeria is good at theoretical writings, but to put it into practice has always been a problem. Since the conference held, we have not seen any implementation strategy, all the beautiful suggestions made by world leaders have gone underground ”

“The conference was attended by the whole world, and there are lots of benefits in that discussion, they should look into implementation quickly” Capt Onaharigho concluded

It is worthy of note that in February 2020, two international shipping groups, Baltic and International Maritime Council, BIMCO, and International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, Inter-Tanko, threatened to report Nigeria to the United Nations, UN, and the United States of America, USA, if cogent actions are not taken to stem the recent spike in pirate attacks against their vessels and personnel.

Both bodies theeatened that if action is not taken, they would deploy international war ships to Nigerian territorial waters to secure their vessels and personnel if the situation remains the same three months afterwards.

To this end, Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh has assured that the agency and the Nigerian Navy have collaborated on the establishment of a Trade Transit Corridor (TT ) for vessels calling on Nigerian waters.

According to him, the TTC is a dedicated and secured passage for international vessels calling at Nigerian ports.

Already, an implementation committee has been established by the Navy to look into workability of the TTC, three zones have been created for vessels calling at the port, so that they would no longer be attacked by pirates and sea robbers.

The Central Zone is Warri axis, Eastern Zone is Port Harcourt axis and Western Zone is Lagos axis.

According to the NIMASA boss “There is a proposal from the international community, they want us to create Trade Transit Corridor which means that we would create one path way entering Nigerian territorial waters or going out of the territorial waters, and then deploy all our assets, resources and guards, human and capital”

“If the ship is coming from anywhere in the world, we would be the one to guide you on the route to follow, this route into Nigerian waters would now be fully protected by personnel of Nigerian Navy and other security arms”

“When they brought this idea, it was in January this year, it was discussed with the Honorable minister for transportation and minister of State for transport in turn to discuss with the Nigerian Navy, myself and the minister of transportation would discuss same with the chief of naval staff”

“The chief of Naval staff made mention that he has already inaugurated a committee to look into this proposal to see how it would work”

“In the time being, he has created three zones in terms of secured waterways that can be used by vessels; the Central Zone which is Warri axis, Eastern Zone which is Port Harcourt axis and Western Zone which is Lagos axis.
So this is how we are going to conserve our energies on the navigational areas” he said

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