By Emeka Anaeto, Business Editor and Godwin Oritse
Blames international politics
Contrary to the reports of the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, which put Nigeria on the top spot in global piracy rate, the Nigerian Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, has said security in the country’s maritime space has been beefed up and improved in the past one year. Recall that IMO, in its global piracy reports for the first quarter 2018 rated Nigeria as number one in piracy while the second quarter gave further adverse rating of the country’s maritime security situation. But responding to a question from Vanguard Maritime Reports during the presentation of NIMASA’s half year 2018 reports, the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, said the picture painted by the IMO report was erroneous. He explained that the IMO report should be placed in a context so that observers can understand what is going on. He stated: “The specialized agency that keeps data on maritime crime and piracy is the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, based in Malaysia. “Unfortunately, there is a bit of international politics in what is going on and those who do not understand what is going on will not understand. “Piracy is different from other forms of maritime crime but what has happened to us in the International Maritime Bureau is that if there is kidnap in the inland waters, it is recorded as piracy for us, if there is kidnap in the inland waters in Europe, it is called kidnap, it is not piracy. “I am not saying that kidnap in inland waters is good. But many things are classified as pirate attacks in Nigeria and indeed other forms of crimes that are not pirate attacks. “But whether they are pirate attacks or not, it is immaterial, we should not harbour crime within our maritime space. And to tackle it, for the first time as a country, we are making huge investment in maritime security. “For the first time, we are acquiring between three and five special mission aircrafts that will hover over our maritime space 24 hours a day and seven days a week. “We are going to acquire special mission helicopters with communications features that are connected to satellite surveillance system. “So as these helicopters are flying, there is communication with our ground men and the systems on ground. “We are embarking on training of special naval forces for the sole purpose of battling piracy and maritime crime. “We are doing a number of shore based security system in place. “And so we acknowledge that that problem exists, but we are tackling it from a multi front approach. “Apart from the investment we have made on hardware, we have made a lot of investment lately on intelligence. “And we are also reviewing our laws because ultimately when you grab these people, when you intercept them or arrest them, prosecution has always been a challenged. That is why nobody can say that we have had one successful prosecution. We know there are gaps in our laws that they take advantage of, so we are tightening it and we are having a special anti-piracy law. “We are misrepresented by the International Maritime Bureau, and the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, relies on the record by the Bureau. We have sent a protest “Unfortunately, another dimension to it is that foreigners are the one who man ships coming to the country, so every small incident that happens are reported but the same foreigners do not report incidents in their country. “If you do not report nobody takes record, IMB is not a spirit, it is not a ghost. “The most important thing is that we are focusing on it, we are making the right investment, we are building the right partnership. For me, that is the most important thing.” Besides, the agency’s acquisition of fast security patrol vessels has also made some positive impact on the issue of piracy as there has been reduction on the pirate’s activities in the second quarter of the year. Additional security efforts, according to a statement from the Agency includes the establishment of a satellite surveillance control and command center that has a coverage of up to 312 nautical miles from coast line (approximately 100 nautical miles off our EEZ). The system can detect vessels with AIS transponders switched off as a synthetic aperture raider (SAR images which can be interrogated) immediately by near – point of sight patrol / enforcement boats. Peterside, said that the steady progress recorded so far in the area of maritime security has increased the confidence of the international maritime community. Beyond the issue of security he noted that NIMASA also achieved major marks in its key mandate area of cabotage. According to the H1’18 report the number of Nigerian seafarers placed onboard vessels increased by 59 percent, just as it recorded increase in the number of Nigerian officers and ratings recommended for placement onboard Cabotage vessels. About 2,840 of such seafarers were placed on these categories of vessels in the first half of the year as against 1,789 in 2017 representing an increase of 58 percent. In addition, Peterside said the Agency is working on a special foreign forex intervention for vessel parts acquisition and loan repayment processes to enable indigenous operators to compete favourably with their foreign counterparts. “We have approached the Central Bank of Nigeria and a Committee has already been set up to work out modality to for the fund”, Peterside stated. Other achievements recorded during the period includes: Reduction of Transaction Time from 72 Hours to 12 Hours for Dry Cargo/Roll-On –Roll-Off , RORO, operations and Manifest to 6 Hours for Wet/Gas & Bulk homogenous dry cargo; Development of software that issues Ship Identification Number at the Manifest desk to prevent double entry and double billing; and Improved communication with stakeholders through dedicated electronic channel. Peterside also said, “Since we started the clamor for a change of terms of trade from Free on Board (FOB) to Cost Insurance and Freight (CIF) term of trade for the affreightment of Nigerian crude oil cargo, more stakeholders are now better informed. “We have approached the NNPC and a team has been put together by both organizations to review and come up with modalities for implementation. “To give a boost to our in-house capacity, we have also entered into partnership with the World Maritime University, Malmo, Sweden in a four-year renewable Memorandum of Understanding setting out the areas of cooperation between the World Maritime Union, WMU, and NIMASA. “The MoU covers academic collaborative and reciprocal activities in the field of education, training, research and other areas of capacity-building to be provided by WMU to NIMASA “The Agency secured the reactivation of the maritime domain awareness capability. This has enabled effective enforcement of regulations. “Our surveillance system enables us to ensure the preservation of Cabotage Trade for indigenous operators by identifying and differentiating Ship-To-Ship (STS) operations that take place at the secured anchorage and offshore locations from Cabotage Trade to avoid foreign domination in Cabotage trade under the guise of STS.” The NIMASA boss also disclosed that officials of the International Maritime Organization, IMO currently are in Nigeria to conduct the IMO Member State Audit Scheme, IMSAS, which was made mandatory for all member states since December 2013. “When the IMO conducted same IMSAS Audit for Nigeria in 2016, the identified gaps to ensure we meet our obligations and responsibilities as Flag and Port State Administration were corrected and we decided once again to open our doors to the IMO for audit”, he stated.