The Nigerian Navy and Ocean Marine Solutions have strengthened existing ties in the continued fight against piracy and other forms of crimes on Nigerian waters.
OMS, which had through its Secure Anchorage Area provided a security platform for ships berthing at the Lagos ports to utilise, had come under scrutiny in recent times especially with the new management of the Nigerian Ports Authority not fully in support of its operations.
According to sources in the maritime sector, who spoke with our correspondent, the NPA believes the SAA jerks up the cost of doing business in Nigeria for ships and wants it pulled down at the Lagos seaport.
It was revealed that the SAA was created by a committee set up by the Navy, NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Department of Petroleum Resources and other agencies of government – all leading stakeholders in the maritime environment – in response to the high wave of attacks on vessels by pirates.
The activities of these hoodlums had forced the International Maritime Bureau to term Nigerian waters as “high risk area”.
At the height of pirate attacks on Nigerian waters, vessels were coming into the country with hired mercenaries that charge as much as $2,500 per day to provide security for ships and crew members.
The situation saw to the illegal importation of arms into Nigeria as evident in the impounding of a Russian ship with arms in 2012.
As a result of this problem, shipments destined for Nigeria had to be directed to places like Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana.
A source in the sector, who spoke with SaharaReporters, said, “As a result of the impact OMS made in the Niger Delta, the Nigerian Navy in 2012 invited them to find a solution to what was happening to the Lagos roadstead.
“Part of the solutions proposed was the demarcation of the Lagos water, which is the free anchorage area where people can anchor on their own based on the general security provided by government.
“There is the STS where people can do ship to ship transfer operation; there is no anchorage area because of marine cables and at the end of all these demarcations, the committee also came up with the SAA to provide adequate security for vessels for a fee.
“NIMASA sent notices to mariners to indicate the availability of that service, in addition to all the other services.
“The patrol boats that were used in the SAA are 100 per cent owned by OMS but given to the navy to man.
“In addition to providing the platforms, OMS also provided logistics support for the platforms.”
The SAA is situated 10 nautical miles away from the Fairway Buoy, an area outside the NPA's jurisdiction.
This leaves NIMASA as the only regulator for the SAA.
The source added, “This arrangement has been very beneficial to both Nigeria and the international shipping companies because they had confidence in the service.
“But the new regime in NPA appears to have misunderstood the concept, believing that OMS was collecting money due government and anchorage fees into their private pockets.
“OMS is merely providing security for ships for a small fee and the owners of these vessels are happy to use the service.”
Giving more insight into the partnership with the Nigerian Navy and how much impact the SAA has had on the country’s maritime industry, General Manager, Business Development and Government Relations, Commodore Chuma Adogu (retd), said that the system has helped reduce overhead cost for ship owners and improved national security by eliminating the chances of arms being smuggled into the country by foreign mercenaries.
He said, “We provided the platform and logistics to the Navy to offer security to ships waiting to berth at our anchorage.
“The boats are bought by us and are registered with NIMASA.
“The allegation that SAA constitutes a threat to national security is not correct or that it adds to cost for ships coming into Nigeria is false.
“The concept of SAA has been hugely successful by helping to bring down piracy and sea robbery attacks on Lagos waters.
“Therefore, the removal of this system without any visible effective alternative will leave a huge vacuum in the security architecture and herald the return of unbridled banditry on Lagos waters.”
In recent years, attacks on Nigerian waters by hoodlums have become a big problem for players in the country’s maritime sector.
In October for example, Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas, revealed that Nigeria and 15 other countries in the Gulf of Guinea currently lose $2bn to pirate attacks annually.
This was two months after the country was rated number one in pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in a report by the IMB.
According to Ibas, the Navy was adopting new strategies including partnerships like the one with OMS to tackle the situation.
He said, “The maritime domain has been under threat by piracy, sea robbery, illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution.
“Now emerging security threats within the Nigerian maritime domain stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and a large army of unemployed and under-employed youths in the coastal communities, whose activities manifest through attacks on shipping.
“More disturbing is the fact that many of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic lifeline of the nation, with negative impact on development and well-being of our citizens.”
Bimbo Olajengbesi, a maritime lawyer and analyst, told SaharaReporters that it is only through initiatives like SAA that Nigeria can truly begin to secure her waters properly.
He said, “All over the world, private companies providing cutting-edge security are the ones driving the maritime industry.
“Without adequate security, economies will lose a lot of money to the activities of pirates.
“Nigeria has suffered a lot in this regard and that is why initiatives like SAA that has restored great sanity in the system must be commended and encouraged to thrive.
“I am looking forward to more collaboration between the Navy and organisations like this to help secure the country’s maritime sector the more.”