Stemming illegalities in Nigerian waters

07 March 2015, Lagos –  One of the ways to determine the commitment of any nation in the maintenance of law and order is the security of her territorial waters. As a member of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Nigeria has the responsibility to ensure that insecurity is totally eliminated or minimised in her territorial waters. This is important because safety at sea plays a significant role in vessel traffic into any country. However, the task of ensuring total security and safety of territorial waters is not an easy one. The reasons are very obvious. The procurement and maintenance of ships are capital intensive. Besides in bunkering, the crew members need to be paid regularly. The captain and other crew members earn their salaries and allowances in US dollars. In fact, owning and maintaining a ship is not cheap. A lot of resources are needed to stay afloat in the shipping world, much less making profit, which is the sole aim of any business venture. This explains why not many ship owners are not in a position to maintain their vessels. Therefore, no serious minded ship owner would like his ship to sail into a country where the safety and security of the ship and its crew members cannot be guaranteed.

Safety laws/records
Global maritime watchdog, IMO takes safety and security seriously. The United Nations specialised agency, which has its headquarters in London, United Kingdom, takes serious exception to any security and safety violation. This is one of the bases for the enactment of several guidelines and conventions on safety and security by the global body. These include the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974 as amended; International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto and by Protocol of 1997 (MARPOL); International Convention for Standards and Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Seafarers (STCW) as amended, including the 1995 and 2010 Manila Amendments.
In a bid to ensure that it fulfills its roles and responsibilities as contained in the Act establishing it, Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory authority, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has embarked on what some experts called a “new maritime security architecture and strategy” to ensure that there is safety of lives and properties in Nigeria’s territorial waters. According to NIMASA, which has Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi as its Director General, the agency surveillance strategies have been increased to three with the satellite system added to the existing aerial and aquatic powers.

Giving an insight into the latest strategies, Akpobolokemi said:  “With the NIMASA Satellite Surveillance Centre, it is easy to respond to any distress call on Nigerian waters and even beyond. The new 24-hour Satellite Surveillance equipment has the capability to detect boats, ships and objects of predefined cross-section floating on water. It includes any aircraft that ditches and remains on the surface during satellite over-flight. Its abilities further include but are not limited to setting range rings and restricted areas for which when penetrated by an intruder, the system gives an alarm thereby alerting the operator or watch keeper.”

According to him, the agency which is presently Nigeria’s designated authority (DA) in the maritime industry is concluding the installation of the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) at Takwa Bay, Lagos. When fully integrated with the satellite system, it would provide full domain awareness for Nigeria’s waterways.

He disclosed that the facility is equipped with VHF Radio, satellite phones and the IMARSAT, among other security features.
Akpobolokemi explained that NIMASA has strengthened safety within the Nigerian sea shores through “vigorous compliance” with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. He revealed that as at August last year, 22 port facilities in Nigeria were certified compliant with the ISPS Code, a significant increase from only nine port facilities during the previous visit of the United States Coast Guard to Nigerian ports. The figure is expected to rise when the report of the ISPS Code compliance team recent visit to Nigeria is made public.

Investment Potential

It is an indubitable fact that with a coastline of about 853 kilometres and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles, the Nigerian maritime industry remains one huge investment sector that guarantees attractive returns for discerning investors within and outside the country. Besides being the fulcrum upon which most of Nigeria’s trade is attained, the maritime sector of the economy is very strategic to Nigeria’s major income earner, exploration of hydrocarbons. THISDAY checks revealed that the sector is also capable of funding not less than 50 per cent of the nation’s fiscal annual budget if properly harnessed.

It is against this backdrop that the federal government has outlined strategic initiatives for the development of the sector with a view to harnessing the vast opportunities therein, including liberalisation and Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements. There are several significant areas for private sector participation and indeed foreign direct investment (FDI) that will unlock the goldmine that is the Nigerian maritime industry for discerning investors. One of the firms that has taken advantage of these potential is Guardian Global Resources Nigeria Limited (GGRN). The firm said it is providing innovative security solutions through strategic partnership. Besides procurement, it is also involved in land and maritime operations. The wholly indigenous firm has not relented in its efforts to fulfill its set goals and objectives in the maritime sector of the economy and beyond.

The involvement of the GGRN in the secure anchorage area (SAA) has been applauded by several stakeholders in the maritime industry who have continued to stress the need for the involvement of private firms in the safety of lives and properties through strategic partnership with government agencies. They maintained that PPP with notable firms is the way forward in the attainment of the desired goals in the maritime industry.

According to them, it is important for private firms to be involved in maritime safety and security as government cannot do it alone. This is not unconnected with the fact that the dwindling income accruing into the coffers of the government as a result of the falling prices of crude oil in the international market has compelled those at the helms of affairs to be looking inward and devising alternative avenues to generate income in recent times. As the government continues to devise means to shore up Nigeria’s dwindling revenue from sundry sources apart from crude oil, industry players have opined that no stone should be left unturned in Nigeria’s quest to reach the promised land in the months ahead. Already, many stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy have called for  concerted efforts to ensure that all hands are on deck on the way forward for maritime security and safety in the country. They argued that indigenous companies such as GGRN should be encouraged to do more. Besides creating employment opportunities for more Nigerians, it will spur others to go into the business thereby boosting the economy for the benefit of Nigerians in the long run. According to them, safety and security in the maritime industry should not be left in the hands of government alone. All stakeholders have a role to play in ensuring that the country achieves the desired objectives in the maritime industry.

According to them, maritime safety and security should involve every patriotic Nigerian. It should not be left in the hands of those in government alone. Safety and security, particularly in the maritime industry should be everyone’s affair as it is obtainable in the developed world. This is because security agencies are not magicians. They need information. They need the support and the co-operation of everyone to ensure that any safety and security breach is promptly reported to the appropriate authorities and prompt action taken. By so doing, issues that would have led to safety and security breaches in Nigerian waters would be nipped in the bud.

Need for more encouragement

More indigenous companies need to be encouraged to toe the line of GGRN by getting involved in the campaign to ensure that Nigeria territorial waters do not become haven for criminal activities. The ills are numerous. These include illegal bunkering, mid sea discharge, over fishing, crude oil theft, pollution, and dumping of rickety vessels, which eventually end up as wrecks and derelicts. It is on record that these wrecks and derelicts cost billions of Naira to remove. Their removal will lead to safe navigation in our waters. There is no doubt that the huge scarce resources used by the federal government  to remove these wrecks and derelicts would have been chanelled to other things beneficial to the country and the citizenry if adequate security measures  are put in place and strictly implemented to prevent them from being dumped into Nigeria’s territorial waters. This is the standard and practice in the developed world. Therefore, Nigeria must do everything possible to follow this line if she wants to be taken seriously in the comity of maritime nations. It is a fact that adequate safety and security of Nigeria’s maritime domain will enhance her prospects in the maritime world.

This is due to the fact that safety and security in the maritime sector of any country is germane to a sustainable development of the country as a lot of issues that will make or mar the well being of her citizenry are involved. It is expected that the federal government will do the needful by securing Nigeria’s territorial waters. It is also expected that the government will have the political will to vigorously implement the decisions that would bring the desired changes in the maritime industry.

– John Iwori, This Day

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