Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Nigeria Emerges As Center For Pirate Attacks - WSJ.com
Nigeria Emerges as Center for Pirate Attacks Situation Draws Comparison With Somalia's, but Government Defenses Are Down
PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria—In December's final two weeks, pirates raided three ships off Nigeria, a year-end burst of attacks in waters that are beginning to challenge those off Somalia as Africa's most dangerous place to sail.
On Dec. 17, skiff-borne gunmen climbed the three-story-high hull of a 387-foot oil tanker, ransacking the ship and taking five Indian crew members hostage, the International Maritime Bureau reported, in one of two attacks it recorded for that day. Six days later, machine gunners scaled the hull of an Italian pipe carrier nearby, the bureau said, sailing onward with four kidnapped crew members.
The bureau tallied 27 attacks off Nigeria's coast in 2012, up from 10 in 2011 and 19 the year before, a resurgence in the years after Nigeria's 2009 amnesty deal with militants. The rise could lead Africa's most-populous country to lose port business, analysts say. It also tarnishes the image of oil-rich Nigeria, one of Africa's fastest-growing states, whose waters are considered, by insurers, a piracy risk comparable with Somalia's.
Unlike Somalia, Nigeria boasts some of Africa's most impressive naval assets: locally built warships, a German-manufactured flagship frigate, a fleet of surveillance drones, and 200 boat troops trained by the U.S. Navy. In January, the U.S. gave the country a retired 378-foot, 3,000-ton Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter, which Nigeria rechristened NNS Thunder.
But the U.S.-trained boat troops have been dispatched to fight terrorists in the market towns of Nigeria's landlocked north, officials from both countries say. The flagship frigate sits in disrepair, perched on blocks overlooking several dry-docked gunboats. The drones are missing engines and other parts, according to Rabiu Hassan, an arms supplier contracted by the Nigerian government to assess the cost of repairing the planes. The navy has struggled to fund the Thunder's enormous fuel bills.
The disorder is the legacy of official corruption, said Leke Oyewole, the senior maritime adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, who was elected in 2011. "We have found so many anomalies," he said, adding that Mr. Jonathan is the first Nigerian president who is "taking charge of the maritime sector."
On land, Nigeria faces expensive and higher-profile security challenges. Crime syndicates steal hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from pipelines each day, companies and the government estimate. In the north, several thousand people have died since 2009 as Nigerian soldiers have attempted to battle the Islamic insurgency Boko Haram.
But piracy is climbing the scale of Nigeria's problems. About 41% of the world's trade, worth $3.2 trillion a year, crosses through or around Africa, or touches the continent "in some way," according to a U.S. Navy research document. Most pirate attacks in Nigeria aren't reported, according to London security firm AKE Ltd.
World-wide, more attacks and attempts have been reported in recent years off the coast of Indonesia than any other country. Somali pirates appeared to be responsible for the greatest number of strikes, as they are believed to be behind not only those off their own coast, but also throughout the region. But following an African troop offensive against Somali militants, attacks off the coast of Somalia fell to 44 in the first nine months of 2012, about one-third the level from the same period the previous year.
Nigerian pirates also appear to range widely. In October, suspected Nigerian pirates seized an oil tanker off Ivory Coast, four countries and 400 miles west of Nigeria, along Africa's 2,100-mile-long Gulf of Guinea.
"You'd need a massive fleet of vessels to continue to police that much water," said Peter Sharwood-Smith, Nigeria-based risk manager for Drum Cassac, a British maritime consultancy. "It's almost impossible for the navies of West African countries."
Among Nigeria's potential intelligence assets are three surveillance aircraft, which would prove valuable in a region where some navies' largest vessels are speedboats.
Six years ago, Nigeria's Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Safety and Security ordered the three drones, along with five radars, from a subsidiary of Israel's Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. as part of a €215 million ($280 million) coast guard undertaking, according to a copy of the contract reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The drones, which also lack aerial cameras, are parked in a hangar in central Nigeria, said Mr. Hassan, the arms supplier. A member of the presidential committee said the government had paid about half of the sum upfront and attributed the incomplete delivery to general corruption.
"They have succeeded in wasting so much money," said Mr. Oyewole, the presidential adviser, referring to the presidential committee that was formed under previous administrations and signed the deal.
A representative for the committee didn't respond to requests to comment. Aeronautics Defense declined to comment. Representatives of its Cyprus-based subsidiary, which sold the equipment, couldn't be located.
Meanwhile, officials from shipping lines that hire out Nigeria's navy men complain that sailors have little equipment or training—a shortcoming that Mr. Oyewole acknowledges. Nigerian law bans foreign mercenaries in its waters but allows government sailors to rent themselves out.
During the past two years, the U.S. trained some 200 Nigerian boat troops. In 2011, the U.S. and U.K spent more than $3 million combined to install five coastal radars, separate from those in the Israeli deal.
The U.S. sees potential in its cooperation with the navy. "They're slowly building their inventory," said a U.S. official familiar with the government.
In January 2012, Nigeria's navy first sailed the Thunder into a dock in Port Harcourt, Nigeria's oil harbor. Days later, Islamic militants in the north killed 186 in a spree of suicide bombs, sending hundreds of soldiers—including the U.S.-trained boat troops—to man roadblocks in the desert-like region.
The Thunder sustained hull damage when it crashed into a small oil-company vessel in a widely publicized accident. Following repairs, the Thunder now sees frequent but limited patrols close to shore, according to Nigeria's navy.
President Jonathan would like to see the Thunder perform wider patrols, said Mr. Oyewole. But the ship has a huge fuel tank, he said. In June, Nigeria's president invited shipping magnates to his statehouse with a proposal to foot the fuel bill.
Their response wasn't clear. Two people with knowledge of the ship's patterns, however, said it rarely leaves its dock. On a recent day, the massive ship was docked, a cleaning lady mopping its deck. —Nancy Porat in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.