In Lagos, on Thursday, June 10, President Mohammadu Buhari launched the highly anticipated Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, also known as the Deep Blue Project. The project assets consist of $195 million worth of equipment that will be deployed in a coordinated effort to secure Nigerian waters along the Gulf of Guinea. The project will also be used in a coordinated manner that combines land, air, and water forces to protect Nigeria’s oil infrastructure.
In the past, maritime piracy was largely concentrated in Asia which served as the traditional hotspot of global piracy. Lately, there has been a geographical shift of maritime pirate activities to Africa waters with high concentration rates on Somalia and Nigeria’s waterways. Some of the factors responsible for this is globalization and its profound impact on increased international trade and commerce, technological advances and transfer as well as arms proliferation. In Article 101 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), piracy involves any illegal acts of detention or violence or any act of depredation committed for personal benefits by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or an aircraft. It also includes any act directed on the high seas against another ship or aircraft or persons or property on board in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state.
The maritime region has experienced several security breaches due to the expeditions of pirates, robbers, and other maritime criminals on the Nigerian waterways and international waters. The activities of the pirates have threatened not only the peace and economic development of Nigeria but international peace as well. Recently, there has been an increased warning by security services over the increasing threats and dangers in the region from piracy. The maritime region has recorded the highest number of kidnappings, theft, and assault on ships alongside oil theft, robbery, human and drug trafficking on land. The activities of the pirates have not only relegated the economies of countries, it has also made the efforts of countries to protect the lives of citizens fruitless.
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Piracy is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. Piracy-related activities have plagued the country since the 1970s. The oil boom and accompanying boom in the imports of goods saw a sharp increase in the numbers of foreign commercial freights and vessels coming to the major ports in Nigeria. initially, piracy and other maritime crime grew out of the availability of goods to rob and no corresponding security. In recent times piracy has changed in nature probably due to change in motivating factors such as agitation for an increased share of the nation’s wealth by the Niger Delta region. Even at a time when there seem to be effective security measures around the border, the pirates still attacked and fought even the coast guards.The international community has always considered the Gulf of Guinea as one of the most insecure maritime regions in the world. This submission was done based on the assumption that Nigeria has not taken the required measures to protect its waterways. Owing to this, Nigeria had borne the brunt of that wrongful label with the highest charges on shipping to the country. An association of Uk ship owners, Lloyd‟s Maritime Association (LMA) and International Maritime Bureau (IMB) will always threaten to raise charges on goods coming to Nigeria.
This threat comes as a result of reports of the presence and operations of 58 pirate attacks on ships within the nation’s coast in 2012 and 22 attacks on ships trading in the Benin Republic and Nigeria as of February 2013. The majority of these pirate attacks occurred around Lagos and in the oil-rich Niger-Delta region. The problem of piracy was compounded in the Niger Delta by a growing insurgency, where militants are agitating for an increased share of the wealth of the region. They have attacked many ships in pursuit of this cause.
Piracy in Nigeria has adversely affected the country’s economy. A case study is the fishing industry in Nigeria that has been significantly emasculated by piracy. The industry contributes 4% of the nation’s GDP, 40% of animal protein intake, and a considerable proportion of employment, business development, and overall inclusive growth. The incidence of piracy in 2008 in Akwa Ibom for example paralyzed the industry. The attacks forced trawlers to go on an indefinite strike, therefore, bringing the local economy to a standstill and consequent loss of revenue to the state.
Nigeria stands to lose up to USD600 million in export earnings due to piracy activities. The Nigerian Maritime Security Task Force on Acts of Illegality in Nigerian Waters (IAMSTAF) documented at least 293 sea robberies between 2003 and 2008. NITOA lost about N23billion in 2011. Many fishing companies are relocating while others are closing down permanently. These losses pose a great threat to the socio-political and economic development of Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of guinea.
Furthermore, these pirate attacks also have a humanitarian effect such as the loss of lives of fishermen and other injured. In 2012, NITOA lost 4 crewmen after 144 pirate attacks on trawlers. Also, aside from fishermen, pirates have hijacked oil tankers, so many crewmen were injured and others kidnapped. In January 2021, four armed assailants attacked a box ship. The attack was well-coordinated and sophisticated that it resulted in the death of one member of the crew and the abduction of 15 others.
The increase in maritime criminal activities has resulted in to call on maritime nations by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to take drastic actions against the menace. It was this call that the Nigerian government responded to. This brought about the initiation of the Blue sea project by the federal government. Now, with the launch of the deep blue project, piracy is going to be a thing of the past. The deep blue project is a giant stride in tackling insecurity issues on Nigeria’s waterways.
Before the launch of the deep blue project, Nigeria has had some engagements to reduce the incidence of piracy and improve maritime security. One of such efforts is the Bilateral engagement between Nigeria and Benin Republic in 2011, to set up a combined Maritime patrol of their waterways which was code-named Operation Prosperity. The operation proved moderately effective as the area witnessed a reduction of attempted and actual pirate attacks. Also, the “Operation Pulo Shield” codenamed in 2013 by the Joint Task Force came into existence. The operation was initiated to inject new tactics and operational initiatives to tackle the emerging security challenges in the region. The security challenges the operation aimed to tackle include; piracy, oil bunkering, pipeline vandalism, and illegal oil refining, and other prevailing criminalities in the Niger Delta This operation was later extended to other states in the country.
These effects have necessitated the need for a stricter and more effective strategy. In place of this, the Federal Government assigned the task of policing the country’s coastal waters and some areas of Benin Republic to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). The Blue Sea Project is birthed to incapacitate the ability of pirate groups to prey on merchant shipping. This strategy will keep in check the menace of pirates within the West African sub-region, especially pirates attacks emerging from Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.
In West and Central Africa, The Deep Blue Project is the first integrated maritime security strategy aimed at the ongoing threats of piracy, robbery, and other maritime crime. Nigeria will be deploying assets such as 16 armored vehicles for coastal patrol, two special mission aircraft for surveillance of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), two special mission vessels, three special mission helicopters for search and rescue operations, 17 fast interceptor boats, and four unmanned aerial vehicles.
This new development will bring a new chapter to safety in Nigeria. the deployment of the Blue Sea assets will bring a drastic reduction in the rate of attacks in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Nigeria has lost significantly over the years due to insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, this losses account for more than 70 percent of trade. The launch of this project will enable the country to participate fully in, and derive optimal benefits from international trade. This will also enhance the ability of Nigerians to harness the enormous resources of our maritime environment and aid economic diversification.
According to the Director-General NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, Nigeria is entering a new and promising phase of national security in the maritime sector and a better domain awareness using some of the latest technology. This project will contribute immensely to seafarers being once again able to carry out their duties without fear.
It is worthy to note that the benefits of this project are not only limited to Nigeria, it is bound to change the security narrative and trajectories of the entire Gulf of Guinea maritime environment.