The constant and repeated attacks on vessels at anchorage have sparked a nationwide outrage from Shipowners especially the impending surcharge that may follow. YUSUF BABALOLA writes
Countries blessed with access to the sea, naturally derives enormous benefits from operations of their maritime sector. Experts says sector plays a very crucial role in the development of economy of nations which harness it potentials sufficiently. And Nigeria being a maritime nation is not an exception.
Nigeria is a special case as three major industries namely, transportation, fishing, oil and gas, which contribute significantly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are predominantly driven by maritime activities. However, despite the potentials inherent in the sector, it has failed to attain its full potential due to security challenges. Nigeria’s waters are considered one of the most dangerous with rising insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) region.
For instance, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recently stated that the attacks by sea robbers off the Coast of West Africa are on the increase in Nigeria. This is as the United Nations Security Council also observed that Nigeria was losing about $1.5 billion on a monthly basis to piracy, armed robberies at sea, smuggling, and fuel supply fraud, which are on the increase in the Gulf of Guinea.
Also, in the last three months of 2018, 41 kidnappings cases were recorded in waters off Nigeria alone. On 27 October 2018, 11 crew were kidnapped from a container vessel 70 nautical miles off Bonny Island, Nigeria. Two days later, Nigerian pirates in a speedboat hijacked a tanker underway 100 nautical miles off Point Noire, Congo. Eight of the 18 crew were kidnapped. There are many recent examples of how armed criminals are reaching further out to sea and targeting a wider variety of ships: bulk carriers, container vessels and general cargo vessels in addition to local attacks on tankers, oil industry support vessels and fishing vessels.
Unfortunately, much as the sea remain unsafe, the anchorage which use to be a safe haven has also turned into nightmares for vessels.
Except for the Lagos anchorage that is relatively secured and safe, the anchorages in Bonny, Warri and Brass have become nightmare for both local and foreign shipowners.
According to maritime experts the implication of the restiveness at the anchorage is increase in freight rate and insurance premium on vessels calling at the nation’s seaports.
Speaking on the development, the President of Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), Aminu Umar, raised the alarm over the high rate of insecurity at the Warri and Bonny anchorage.
Umar said the Warri anchorage, located in Delta state has spike insurance premium for shipowners describing it as a very tough one.
Pointing out that the Lagos anchorage is the only one anyone can sincerely claim to be safe or secured, the shipowner boss added that the Warri anchorage is the toughest for Shipowners.
“There is another one in Warri, Delta State, which is a tough one. Many vessels are afraid of that place; in fact, international vessels don’t drop anchor there.
“Even as for a Nigerian ship going there, our insurers charge is higher because it is considered as an unsafe area.”
Speaking further, he said the Bonny anchorage is another dead end that couldn’t be dared because of the risk it portends.
“Another anchorage is the one in Bonny, Rivers State. This one is considered totally unsafe. So, no vessel stays there”, he explained, noting that even the Lagos anchorage still suffer attacks by sea robbers, in offshore Lagos.
“Every ship owner that goes into the Delta has to take his own private security, and it is costing us a lot.
“We don’t know what Government’s plan is, presently. But we hope that they would be able to create the safety net, to ensure safety of vessels, particularly in the Niger Delta area, which has been so dangerous.
“Almost on a daily basis there is a kidnap, or hijack. That is why when vessels have to go there, they have Naval armed men on board the ship, which is against shipping practice because some of the ships carry volatile cargoes and if there is any mistake of a gunshot is can set the ship ablaze. But we have no option than to have them on board the ships because of the high risk situation.”
He reiterated that the Bonny anchorage is the most dreadful and advised the relevant government agencies to secure the anchorages in the country
Corroborating Umar, the President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Captain Tajudeen Alao, urged the federal government to mobilise assets that would make the anchorage secure.
He said it is the responsibility of the government to make the anchorage secured else there would be consequence for insecurity at the anchorage.
“Anchorage is a waiting area for ships on international trade and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that they are highly secured and the only way is to deploy asset.
When attacks happened 40 miles away from the coast, it’s piracy but, despite that, there should be early detection and deterrent .
“The government must protect the shoreline and go to sea to reassure the people calling that they are safe because when robbers or pirates board a ship and attack people it is a bad image for the country, so the government should make sure that the anchorage are secured.”
On the multiplier effect on the economy, Alao said, “The attack will have a big multiplier effect because many ships won’t come and those that will come will slam surcharge because it is like going to a war risk area and the insurance premium will be high. Nigeria water will be regarded as unsafe and that will be disastrous for us,” he said.
Speaking in similar vein the Secretary General of NISA, Tunji Brown said the attacks on vessels at anchorage has made it very difficult for shipowners as they pay high premium insurance on their vessels.
According to him, the government needs a direct approach to tackle the scourge as shipowners now resort to hiring security escorts.
“I don’t think there is a direct approach to it because we had an experience not too long ago and what the Navy could do was to ask for telephone number of people who called to track them down so we don’t really know how to respond to attacks but there are some very hot spot like Brass where vessels used to avoid and if they must go their, it must be with security escort and that is very tough because it is very expensive to engage a security outfit.
“The cost of doing business has gone up and the ease of doing business has gone up tremendously for shipowners.”
But, when asked the financial implication of the attacks on Nigeria economy, the NISA scribe said it’s huge because foreign vessels now refuse coming to Nigeria water.
“The situation in Financial terms are huge and major loss because most foreign vessels are skeptical about coming to Nigeria’s waters because of the attack and unfortunately, attacks happened almost once every week and I think for government to defeat this scourge, it’s more of intelligence work so that before any attack can be successfully carried out, security agency would have been aware.