The upsurge of crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and illegal refining of siphoned petroleum products in the nation, particularly in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, is becoming alarming, owing to the display of brazen resistance from these oil thieves, inspite of steps taken to curb the menace.
Unfortunately, these acts, have a negative effect on Nigeria, being a mono-economy nation that depends solely on oil generated revenues for her economic survival. Record, shows that Nigeria losses over 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day to oil theft and other related criminalities in the oil sector.
In a move to address these maritime threats , the Nigerian Navy under the leadership of the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo , immediately launched a campaign against crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and illegal refinery, with a matching order to Commanders at various formations at the Gulf of Guinea to carry out this directive to the latter, through a sustained patrol of the creeks and waterways in their areas of operations.
This directive, from all indications, seemed to have been carried out to the latter as record shows that the Nigerian Navy arrested 44 vessels filled with illegal products and saved a whooping N66.9bn for the nation from the seizure.
The Nigerian Navy, which is saddled with the responsibility of protecting the Maritime space which extends beyond her immediate environment to include the entire Gulf of Guinea (GoG) has recorded significant successes in the last one year.
Experts in the Maritime sector have even attributed the massive decline in criminality in nation’ s maritime space to the induction of state of the art facilities and platforms, within the period under review.
The Nigeria Navy’s responsibility extends beyond the nation’s maritime domain to a coastline of about 2,874 nm stretching from Angola in Southern Africa to Senegal in West Africa commonly referred to as the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
The GoG, with its rich endowment unfortunately has the unintended consequences of attracting various threats such as piracy, smuggling and kidnapping for ransom that continue to affect the economic lifeline of countries in the region
The region has a dominant portion of global hydrocarbon deposits and is geographically positioned with comparative advantage owing to the absence of narrow maritime shipping lanes, straits or chokepoints linking major global shipping destinations.
To protect this enormous resources, the Nigerian Navy established dedicated naval operations and initiatives to counter piracy/sea robbery attacks in Nigeria’s maritime environment, while also engaging in deeper consultations with maritime stakeholders.
These initiatives have commendably led to several successes in anti-piracy operations where a total of 44 vessels were arrested with illegal products worth N66.9bn.
Records show that significant successes were achieved in bringing the rate of piracy to the barest minimum, especially in the last 3 Quarters of 2021 as several other attacks on vessels in Nigerian waters were aborted by prompt response from NN ships on patrol using intelligence from MDA infrastructure namely: Falcon Eye and Regional Maritime Domain Awareness (RMAC) assets.
In December 2021, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari , commissioned an array of vessels and helicopters to add to the country’s already existing formidable naval assets.
This was a proud moment for the Nigerian Navy and the highpoint of that event. Mr President also performed the keel laying ceremony for SDB IV and SDB V.
It is worth saying that with the induction of these new platforms, the Nigerian Navy has continued to beef up its operational capacity as well as the scope and depth of its activities both in Nigeria’s waters and the GoG.
The surveillance capability of the Nigerian Navy was further enhanced with the commissioning of the Falcon Eye state-of-the-art Maritime Domain Awareness Surveillance System by the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, representing President Buhari in July 2021 at the Nigerian Naval Headquarters Abuja.
The system which incorporates various sensors located along Nigeria’s enormous coastline is seen as a game changer in the fight against piracy.
Vice-President had pointed out that Nigeria loses around $26bn a year to criminal activities, particularly piracy and sea robbery and this fact underscores the need to enhance maritime security in Nigeria’s waters.
Speaking at the launching of the System, Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo said, the Falcon Eye “translates to complete coverage of Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
He stated that monitoring and analysis of data from the various sites strategically located along the nation’s coastline is facilitated through the 4 Falcon Eye Centres in Abuja, Lagos, Yenagoa and Calabar.
Gambo added that the coverage of the satellite aspect of the Automatic Identification System of Falcon Eye extends beyond Nigerian waters to Cote D’Ivoire in the West, Cameroon at the East, and Angola at the South East.” Pertinently, the System, combined with the various sea and air platforms as well as well thought out strategies and vigorous leadership have resulted in a steep decline in criminal activities within the nation’s maritime domain and the GoG in 2021.
Available records indicate that in Year 2021, “44 vessels involved in illegal bunkering were arrested leading to the recovery of 1,664,628.61 barrels of crude oil and 45,752.91 Metric Tons of Automotive Gas Oil valued at N55.1 billion and N11.8billion respectively.
“In October 2021, the Nigerian Navy arrested a Singapore flagged bulk cargo ship, MV CHAYANEE NAREE with 32.9kg of smuggled cocaine.”
The 22 crew of the CHAYANEE NAREE, all reported to be Thai nationals, are being detained onboard the ship at the Lagos Port Complex while the investigation continues.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Global Piracy Report of 14 Jul 21, showed the lowest total of piracy and sea robbery against ships in 27 years. Notably, “there has been a marked decline in piracy in the GoG in 2021 with 11 pirate incidents recorded compared to 44 in 2020”.
Similarly, there was a decline in pirate attacks and sea robbery in Nigeria’s water where the country reported only 11 pirate incidents and 3 sea robberies in 2021, compared to 22 pirate incidents and 16 sea robberies in 2020.
These figures convey proof of the effectiveness of the Nigerian Navy maritime security engagements. The security and economic implications are quite enormous not only for Nigeria but the sub-region as efforts to neutralise activities of criminal elements and economic saboteurs will stimulate and accelerate maritime trade and commerce, reduce costs including insurance premium and hopefully put an end to the smuggling of crude oil which the country depends so heavily on.
Having articulated his vision and mission statements, produced a Strategic Directive document as well as the Nigerian Navy Strategic Plan, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo has won the full confidence of officers and ratings who affirmed their loyalty and vow to be willing, able and ready to keep the nation’s waters and resources therein safe and secure for national prosperity.
In the period under review,the Nigerian Navy inducted and commissioned a Hydrographic Survey Ship NNS LANA, Inshore Patrol Crafts (IPC) NNS ABA, NNS KANO, NNS IKENNE and NNS SOKOTO. Others are Fast Patrol Boats (FPB) NNS OSUN and Seaward Defence Boat III (SDB) NNS OJI.
Additionally, NN312 helicopter was commissioned. In addition: 38 Sun craft Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs), 32 Paramount RHIBs, 22 Poly RHIBS, 11 SEWA Boats, 8 Epenal Boats, 4 Suncraft Manta Boats, 4 Falcon Boats and 2 Aresa Boats were also inducted into the inventory of the Nigerian Navy during the event.
Furthermore,the Nigerian Navy, working with foreign navies conducted 3 major exercises which include Ex OBANGAME EXPRESS, Ex GRAND AFRICAN NEMO and Ex SAFE DOMAIN 1 in 2021.
Despite this remarkable achievement, Gambo has made bold to say that the Nigerian Navy under his watch remains resolute to make sure that Delta State and its maritime sector remains secured within the ambit of their mandate, which is to ensure that legitimate socio-economic activities remain unhindered by would-be and existing criminals in the maritime space”