Friday, November 22, 2019

Ongoing Piracy in Nigerian Waters Presents Opportunity for a Range of Security Options

Lessons Learned from Somalia Hijackings Need to be Heeded
Shipping News Feature

NIGERIA – UK – There has been strong government reaction in some of the world's piracy hotspots to the presence of armed security personnel accompanying merchant ships travelling through their national waters. In September we reported on the arrest and seizure of vessels and personnel in Sri Lanka, a story which hinted at levels of corruption.

In 2014 we wrote of problems in the waters off Nigeria, again with accusations of corruption and intrigue. This week we publish an edited opinion piece by Steve Regis, COO of Edinburgh based ARX Maritime, a company which produces a range of hardware to secure ships against attack whilst at anchor, or indeed under way. He writes:

”This year we’ve seen the Nigerian government attempt to flex its muscles by bringing the hammer down on third-party security providers. In at least two separate occasions, we’ve seen the Nigerian Navy go out of their way to arrest security company personnel for providing armed security escorts to vessels transiting through their territorial waters. And just last month, we saw the Nigerian government outlaw the use of the privately-run Secure Anchorage Area outside Lagos, deeming it a ‘threat to national security’.

”It was a move that surprised the industry; the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) decided, almost out of the blue, to dismantle the Secure Anchorage Area (operated on behalf of the Navy by the Nigerian-based company, OMSL limited). The NPA insists that the privately-run SAA is a threat to national security and that it substantially increased the cost of doing business at the country’s main seaport. In fact, the NPA maintains that the commercial maritime fleet transiting through the Nigerian Territorial waters should rely solely on the Nigerian Navy for its protection.

”However, given the scope and magnitude of the threat, one cannot blame managers for trying to do the best they can to ensure the safety and security of their fleet. Moving forwards the temptation to hire an armed PMSC within WAF territorial waters is certainly high, but it can potentially cost you. With Nigeria so vehemently, and perhaps for good reason, attempting to assert its dominance, chances are that you will be discovered. And should that happen, are you then prepared to face the full might of the Nigerian Government?

”It should however be mentioned that there are legal avenues available, to ship managers who wish to pursue them. Nigeria has issued an MOU to 17 security companies that allows them to liaise with the Nigerian Navy to arrange armed security escorts for merchant vessels transiting through the WAF.

”It’s a convoluted method, which potentially serves to complicate what is already a rather difficult process. If you’re dead set on acquiring an armed escort, you’d first need to locate a properly vetted security company, who will then attempt to communicate with its Nigerian approved partner, who then arranges for Navy personnel to escort your vessel.”

Steve Regis goes on to suggest that the first port of call for vessel security is by following Best Management Practices (BMP5), which of course recommends a high level of physical security as well as ensuring the relevant authorities are aware of a vessel in transit. We have seen such a policy succeed in many situations throughout the Indian Ocean when the scourge of piracy emanated largely from the Somali coast.

The authorities, using the skill and tenacity of the Combined Task Forces and the use of citadels and other physical protections have largely defeated the criminals in that region, although constant vigilance is still required. Mr Regis says that appropriately installed alarms, physical barriers, steel bars on windows, chain link fencing and reinforced doors (some products doubtless such as those produced by his company) can effectively form a layer of defence that will deny unwanted access to a ship.

The situation off the Nigerian coast and in the Gulf of Guinea has differences from the Somalian conditions of a few years ago. However, whilst the current problems lack the impetus to provide international aid in the form of naval intervention from a range of nations, largely accounted for in the Indian Ocean by the necessities of protecting World Food Programme convoys, there is still much which can be done to secure the safety of innocent seafarers.

Photo: (L) The ARX MLarm a maritime movement alert and detection system to warn of intruders coming aboard and (R) the ARX ABAC, a plastic modular system that straps to the guard rail of any existing ship, offering denial of access by preventing ladders and climbing poles from being attached, with (inset) the ABAC system in place.