There is no doubt that piracy has been an economic sabotage on the Nigerian economy even its effect has taking a drastic effect on the country’s stolen wealth-crude oil. Taiwo Hassan takes a closer look at the proliferation of piracy on the Gulf of Guinea region and how it has affected the West African countries, particularly Nigeria.
For those in Nigerian shipping business, the word ‘piracy’ goes beyond the attack or seizure of vessels on the highsea rather it is an economic sabotage that is already affecting the country’s image at the international scene. Specifically, the frequent pirate attacks on Nigerian bound vessels are not only a source of concern to the government and industry stakeholders but it is a setback to national development. Relatively, the volatile pirate attacks along the Gulf of Guinea is seriously taking a toll on Nigerian shipping activities as inability to response to piracy attacks is resulting to higher insurance premiums and crewing costs for shipowners who encourage them to lobby for stricter security measures.
The impact on piracy on Nigerian shipping sector is enormous as higher freight rates are now being introduce for certain West African container loadings culminating into possible increase in expenses that could soon be faced by shipowners calling at countries such as Nigeria. “It’s a very sad incident and it will have an impact on how business is done in West African countries,” a shipowner- Magnus Abe said. “The pirates down here are ruthless and can cause grave damage to the ship and crew.
Owners are going to have to start taking precautions such as employing security teams to deal with the threat.” According to him, the West African region is an extremely significant exporter of crude oil, with Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon the key producers. He said that piracy on the Nigeria waters is so worrisome as most of the vessels with stolen petroleum products are always traced to the Nigerian market because the business is a hot cake within the Gulf of Guinea region. “If piracy escalates, this could have an impact but we are still assessing it. This is a very serious situation. The crew on a ship going to Nigeria is going to want to be paid more because of the danger involved and as a result I think the owners will be asking for higher freight rates,” Abe added.
Recently, the Federal Government bought four patrol ships- NNS Centenary, NNS Prosperity, NNS Okpabana and NNS Sagbama, which were handed over to the Nigerian Navy to help combat piracy on the Nigerian waters. But in spite of the launched ships, the business of piracy is still thriving along the Nigerian waters. Specifically, the economic loss is so inimical as different government agencies including Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) have all came out with disturbing figures on the amount of crude oil the country was losing due to proliferation of piracy on her waters. For instance, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Charles Obiora- Medani, revealed that Nigeria now loses 800,000 barrels of crude oil monthly to thieves as against over two million barrels monthly at the early part of this year.
He also stated that the rate of criminal activities perpetrated by sea pirates along the water ways in Cross River and Akwa Ibom States have reduced drastically. The FOC said the drastic reduction in oil theft and other criminal acts within the waterways stems from steady and effective patrol of navy personnel along the Calabar-Oron and Ikang water ways. “Our effective patrol has made it impossible for sea robbers to attack oil service vessels and international boats that apply between Nigeria, Sao Tome, Cameroun and Gabon; because of our effective patrol along this axis, they can’t get around them, so they have now resorted to attacking soft target which are passenger boats. “I am assuring you that very soon, we will eradicate these criminals from our water ways,” He said the rate of attack on passenger boats by pirates was on the decrease because the criminals have been having very though time with the navy.
The FOC said the Nigerian Navy was doing a great job in tackling oil theft and sea piracy in the country. For the Director-General, NIMASA, Mr Ziakede Akpobolokemi, getting rid of pirates, armed robbery and kidnappers from the nation’s territorial waterways is a task that cannot be negotiated in anyway. He said the agency has taken proactive steps ahead of pirates within the areas and with a promise to continue to frustrate kidnappers in their evil acts.
According to him, NIMASA’s effort at countering piracy on the waterways has been an on-going event, adding that it would not rest on its achievements so far recorded on flushing out pirates and kidnappers from Nigerian maritime industry. “If I tell you in the last one month plus, the number of attacks we have foiled in Lagos area and the number of pirates in our custody, it will be alarming; none of them succeeded.“Some of them, we have handed them over to the Navy to help us and working with them and civil defense for prosecution; and some of the vessels are in our custody. “So just take this Lagos area, it will take you the grace of God to go and do an attack because before even the attack, we are going out, we have got information. “Besides the satellite, we have other systems of operations that we can use in getting people. “If you kidnap, we will go after you. That is why we are saying people should not pay for hostages to be released. “We have to go after them, and crush them. Everybody must die one day, that is the truth about it.
We must fearlessly approach any person that is causing us problems. And we are going to sustain that.“ It is no doubt that piracy on the Gulf of Guinea region has been major problem to West African countries and there is urgent need to stem the frequent attacks on vessels with petroleum products. The areas have been identify to be red tape for tanker vessels plying the region. No doubt, pirate attacks on Nigerian coastal waters is a bad omen for country’s image on the international scene and its also hinder smooth trade facilitation.