In late 2019, a report by the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel on piracy and criminal activity in Nigeria’s territorial waters revealed that Nigeria lost approximately $2.8 billion in 2018, due to crude oil and maritime crimes.
Nigeria has a 853km long coastline that runs through seven of the Southern States of the Federation, Lagos, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The continental shelf widens progressively from a western length of 35km in the area of Lagos, 64km around the Cape of Forcados in the Niger Delta area to a maximum of 75km offshore Calabar.
With this vast coastline, it is nearly impossible for the security services in charge of manning Nigeria’s waters to do so alone, hence the collaboration between the Nigerian Navy and a private security company, Ocean Marine Solution Limited (OMSL) to protect vessels coming to Nigeria.
As part of the plan, the Nigerian Navy and OMSL designated part of Lagos anchorage where vessels can berth and be adequately protected. The fundamental reason for the anchorage initiative is to prevent the security challenge that caused embarrassment to Nigeria in the past. Due to lack of understanding of the partnership between the Nigerian Navy and OMSL, there has been disagreement between stakeholders including the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), OMSL, leading to the intervention of the National Assembly. As part of the resolution, the Senate directed that OMSL be allowed to carry out its function and secure vessels coming into the country.
However, the NPA recently issued Marine Notice to ship masters, ship owners and other operators whose vessels currently enjoy some level of security at the designated anchorage, seems to a signal of fresh battle of the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA), controversy. Stakeholders and analysts have therefore called on the NPA to allow OMSL continue to partner with the Navy to provide security for vessels warning of the danger ahead if vessels are not well protected.
They argued that if the security arrangement in the Lagos Anchorage District is replicated in the Eastern ports, it will curb the issue of insecurity currently being experienced in that axis and boost the economy of the Eastern flanks.
For instance, maritime analysts, Emeka Ejiofor, warned that the renewed efforts to stop OMSL’s involvement in the SAA project will cost the country more than can be imagined.
According to him, “The disruption of the SAA arrangement operated by OMSL might cause the shipping community in the country a huge loss. As ships may be compelled to divert goods destined to Nigeria to other countries, which will not do the country’s economy any good.
“Diversion of goods to neighbouring countries will surely have a catastrophic effect on our economy, this is why it is surprising that this is coming from those who should know better.”
▪︎ Result-oriented Performance
Some analysts believe that OMSL has saved Nigeria on several fronts in the area of securing vessels coming into the country. Early this year, OMSL saved Nigeria from the negative publicity of being reputed to have unsafe sea territory when a combined team Nigeria Navy and OMSL rescued a Chinese cargo ship attacked in Gulf of Guinea.
According to reports obtained from FleetMon Explorer, an international news agency, a general cargo ship ‘Huanghai Glory,’ which left the Lekki Port, east of Lagos Nigeria on Thursday March 5, 2020 was attacked and boarded by pirates at 1820 UMT some 85 nautical miles (NM) south of Lagos Nigeria.
The report noted that the ship and its 23 crew members (all Chinese) were said to have been under the siege of the Pirates for about 24 hours after the matter was reported to the Nigerian authorities.
To save Nigeria from embarrassment, a patrol boat (NNS SPARROW) owned and operated by the joint team of Nigeria Navy and OMSL under the SAA of Lagos port rose to the occasion.
“General cargo ship HUANGHAI GLORY reported by Dryad Global as attacked, boarded by pirates at 1820 UTC Mar 5, some 85 nm south of Lagos Nigeria, Gulf of Guinea. The ship was drifting after attack, not responding to contact requests,” report said.
Although, the report did not expatiate on the details of patrol boat, NNS SPARROW, which rescued the ship and its crew members, investigation revealed that it belong to OMSL, as it is part of the vessels purchased by the firm and hitherto deployed to the Lagos water in assisting the Nigerian Navy to carry out patrol operations as part of the SSA agreement.
Aside the security concerns, some industry stakeholders have warned that stopping OMSL’s operation will further increase the level of unemployment in the country as well as frustrate a noble ideal put in place to secure the nation’s maritime space especially the Lagos port from embarrassing situations.
▪︎Pirates’ Threats to Offshore oil Storage
Also, experts have warned that as international oil companies (IOCs) grapple with a historic plunge in crude prices, a rise in piracy is also poised to threaten supply chains. The first quarter of 2020 saw a spike in piracy around the world, with 47 attacks compared to 38 for the same period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The Gulf of Guinea, a key production hub surrounded by eight oil exporting countries in West Africa, has emerged as a global hot spot, accounting for 21 attacks so far this year and 90 per cent of all kidnappings at sea in 2019.
Most attacks, experts said, still occur in Nigerian waters, but piracy is expected to rise in 2020 and 2021 and expand further into neighboring states, posing serious concerns for shipping and international oil companies, according to research by political risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
The number of crew kidnapped off the Gulf of Guinea climbed 50 per cent to 121 in 2019, up from 78 in 2018, and the Gulf has now surpassed more well-known areas such as the Strait of Malacca – a waterway which separates Malaysia and Singapore from Indonesia – to become the global hotspot.
“This trend will continue into 2020 and into 2021 as regional security forces, hampered by security hot spots across the continent, and a lack of adequate equipment, continue to be unable to effectively tackle piracy,” Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in a research note.
“The prospect of international assistance is equally remote as international shipping routes avoid the Gulf of Guinea. Both regional shipping and oil and gas operators should expect further disruptions to supply chains, export routes and increased costs as more ransom payments will be necessary to liberate crews.
“Around 60 per cent of incidents in 2019 occurred in Nigerian territorial waters, specifically in the areas surrounding the Niger Delta and, to a lesser extent, the shipping hub of the Port of Lagos,” he added.
Raymakers highlighted that the socio-economic factors underpinning these incidents were unlikely to change.
▪︎Risks to oil Industry
“While pirates traditionally limited their operations to raiding oil tankers in order to sell their hold on the black market, the collapse of oil prices in 2015 forced them to alter their strategy, refocusing their efforts on abducting crews for ransom.
“Unlike their Somali counterparts, pirates in the Delta do not have use of secured ports or beaching areas for captured ships, which limits their ability to hold a vessel or its contents for ransom and means operators in the region therefore rarely lose ships or cargo. However, they do face delays and increased costs due to the disappearance of the ship’s crews and subsequent ransom payments,” he said.
He added: “IOCs like Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron and Eni operating out of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria are particularly at risk of experiencing sporadic yet highly disruptive instances of piracy in their supply chains.
“While many have learned lessons from developing comprehensive security structures in order to protect their assets and personnel in Nigeria, smaller supply and service companies will be highly exposed to expanding piracy risks.”
Given the recent collapse in global oil prices due to falling demand, he anticipates that pirates are likely to attempt to board static tankers used as offshore storage facilities for unsold production.
He added that the indiscriminate nature of abductions means pirates are likely to target IOCs’ supply chains and oil shipments leaving export terminals in the Niger Delta, as evidenced by the abduction of seven crew members on the ExxonMobil-contracted supply vessel Zaro off the coast of Equatorial Guinea in December 2019.
IOCs, he stated, will also have to contend with the risk that pirates will seek to abduct workers, particularly expatriates, directly from oil platforms in the Niger Delta.
“The kidnapping of three oil workers from a Niger Delta Petroleum Resources (NDPR) oil platform in Ogbele in April 2019 highlights the ease and speed with which such an operation can be conducted,” Raymakers said.
“Three employees of Acme Energy Integrated Services Limited, which owned and managed the rig and was working on NDPR’s drilling campaign, were kidnapped and nine others injured when unknown gunmen attacked on April 26, 2019.
“Indeed, pirates have easy access to high speed crafts and a plethora of small arms giving them the firepower and agility to conduct such operations, “he explained.
To this end, experts suggests that giving the nature and sensitivity of the matter, a call to appreciation and acceptance to the reputable move of OMSL may not be out of place.
“It is no gainsaying that the company who has been working tirelessly and quietly mitigating against all pirate associated risk with the collaboration of the Nigerian Navy at no cost to government, is rendering it’s services to desired clients who are so willing and happy to do so, “said a stakeholder.
▪︎Danger of marine notice
According to maritime analysts, Ejiofor, the recent Marine Notice issued by the NPA to ship masters, ship owners and other operators whose vessels currently enjoy some level of security at the designated anchorage, seems to signal of fresh battle for the SAA.
The latest move, he added, is coming despite the intervention of the National Assembly on an issue, which almost torn apart frontline operator of the SAA, OMSL and the NPA.
The Senate had last year intervened at the peak of the dispute and order for the status quo remain, thus restricting the f NPA from taking any action that will stop OMSL from carrying out its activities.
But analysts believe the issuance of a marine notice on the anchorage is not only controversial but is bound to generate fresh crisis.
Above all, concerned stakeholders believe the move is an attempt to undermine the institution of the Senate.
Hence, concern stakeholders think it’s uncalled for and may lead to further impact the nation’s economy negatively even as it struggles to survive the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“While striving not to repeat facts already in the public domain, it is important to emphasise that the collaboration between OMSL and the Nigerian Navy which is primarily aimed protecting vessels predates the current management of the NPA.
“Although the unfolding scenario could be attributed to a lack of understanding of the importance of the service being rendered by OMSL to the nation’s maritime industry in particular and the Gulf of Guinea in general, I believe that it is propelled by the Nigerian factor.
“If not why will the NPA after the decision by the nation’s Senate, insist that it is not bound by such. The NPA administration had while explaining the latest marine notice stated that, ‘A Committee of the National Assembly can only play an advisory role in this matter, NPA is not compelled to abide by their directive,’ how is this so? “he queried.
“What this portrays in its entirety is an attempt to create a face-off between the NPA and the National Assembly. Those knowledgeable about such confrontations know that the outcome is usually not favourable to national interest,” he added.
Describing OMSL as working for national interest, he said OMSL the firm has continued to provide security service at the anchorage to the admiration of ship owners and operators that anchor their vessels at the designated area.