Even though Nigerian waters have witnessed low level of piracy since 2006, shipping lines have been advised to avoid being seduced by declaration that piracy is a thing of the past in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) as the Joint War Risk Committee (JWRC) still classifies the waters of the region as highly risky, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
In its Article 101 of 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) defines an act committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft and directed on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft; persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state, as piracy.
Worried by the high level of piracy in the last 28 years, the United States and Europe have contributed a lot of financial and human resources to maritime security in order to ensure peace and promote economic prosperity of West African waters. For instance, the European Union countries and the United States have increasingly deployed naval vessels to the region to combat organised criminal groups targeting commercial ships. To buttress this, in 2021, the Danish Navy sent a frigate to the area, while France, Spain and Portugal regularly patrol Nigerian, Benin and other West African waters. Also, the United States hosts multinational naval exercises in the area that are meant to improve counter-piracy operations and impede illegal fishing.
At the regional level, the Federal Government and other West African governments have collaborated on efforts to secure the gulf against transnational organised crime following the Yaoundé Code of Conduct signed in 2013 in Cameroon by 25 governments in the region. This agreement produced new maritime security architecture built around information and intelligence sharing as well as coordinated naval operations.
Recently, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded 12 incidents against ships in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) between January and June 2022. It is the lowest number of reported piracy incidents across the globe in 28 years. The bureau explained that the 12 incidents reported in the Gulf of Guinea in the first half of the year included 10 armed robberies and two piracy, saying that the overall number of incidents fell. Although there were no crew kidnappings in the first half of 2022, 28 crews were impacted by attacks, including 23 crew taken hostage and five crew threatened.
The bureau noted that 30 bulkers were targeted in the period, along with 18 tankers, five container ships and five other ships. 32 of the ships were anchored, 19 were steaming, while seven were berthed when attacked. It further explained one incident where a panamax bulk carrier was boarded 260 nautical miles off Ghana, IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) alerted authorities and navies in the region, leading to the intervention of an Italian Navy warship and its helicopter.
It said: “IMB PRC commends the prompt and positive actions of the Italian Navy, which undoubtedly resulted in the crew and ship being saved. It urges the Coastal response agencies and independent international navies to continue their efforts to ensure this crime is permanently addressed in these waters which account for 74per cent of crew taken hostage globally.”
Following the success recorded in battle against piracy on the Nigerian territorial waters, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has decided to get Nigeria delisted from the War Risk Insurance (WRI) classification. The Agency is of the view that classification would allow vessels calling at the ports of affected countries to impose a high insurance premium, citing high risk of piracy on the territorial waters. For instance, the Director- General of the Agency, Dr Bashir Jamoh, said that NIMASA had contacted the international insurance bodies over the continuous listing and collection of WRI from vessels calling at the country’s sea-ports. Also, the director-general disclosed that in the first half of the year, there was no pirate attack on any vessel on Nigerian territorial waters.
He stated: “Last month after we were removed from the red list of piracy, we are no longer the most dangerous waters to trade on in the whole world as it used to be. If you recall last year during World Maritime day, that was the first time I started raising alarm that there was a drastic reduction of piracy in Nigeria and we will not continue to pay the World Risk Insurance fee “They claimed we have been on the list for more than 25 years and a short time cannot be a yardstick to remove the World Risk Insurance adding that we shouldn’t bring a few examples.
“We compiled our report and they told us last month that they have concluded their Executive Council meeting for the second quarter and by the third quarter in September they are going to consider other countries including Nigeria. “They asked us to bring up our short, medium, and long term plans that will convince them we have permanent and sustainable reasons to maintain the yardstick of the drop in piracy so they can remove the World Risk Insurance.” According to him, this was the reason the agency explained that by the end of September this year, Nigeria should be able to rejoice over the drastic reduction in terms of the freight rates being paid on cargoes.
However, IMB warned against complacency as such a high proportion of incidents resulted in boarding.
Government should not relent in building security around the ports and waters in order to free Nigeria from attacks by pirates.