The 10 pirate suspects at the NNS Beecroft, Apapa, Lagos

The Federal Government through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA has commenced the enforcement of the newly enacted Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences SPOMO Act 2019 as part of measures to enhance security not only within the country’s territorial waters but also around the Gulf of Guinea.

Recall that Nigeria remains the first country in West and Central Africa to enact the anti-piracy legislation in line with the country’s determination to eradicate all forms of crimes in her maritime domain and beyond.

NIMASA had last February held the 9th edition of its annual Strategic Admiralty Law Seminar for Judges in collaboration with the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies NIALS, in Lagos, with the theme: “Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences SPOMO Act 2019: Key to Accelerating and Achieving Safe and Secure Shipping in Nigeria”, through which it sensitised the judges on the enforcement of the Act.

Director General of the agency, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, who spoke in Lagos, Tuesday, restated the commitment of the apex maritime regulatory body to collaborate with relevant agencies and stakeholders towards the security of the country’s maritime domain.

Speaking during the official handover of 10 suspected pirates arrested by the Nigerian Navy, Jamoh also hinted that the current management of NIMASA under his watch will focus on three main areas, namely, maritime security, safety, and shipping development, in pursuit of a robust maritime domain for the country.

It was gathered that the 10 suspects allegedly attacked and boarded a Chinese vessel, MV HAILUFANG II, off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire on May 15, 2020 and directed it towards Nigeria’s waters. They were arrested by the Nigerian Navy, which dispatched a ship to intercept the vessel following an alert to that effect.

The prosecution of the pirate suspects would be the first trial of bandits arrested in international waters under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences SPOMO Act signed into law in June last year by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The DG however attributed the successful operation that led to the arrest of the suspects and rescue of the ship and her crew to collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. He said the agency will continue to work with relevant security agencies in order to achieve its goal of eradicating piracy and all forms of illegality on the Nigerian waters.

“We have just witnessed the handover of pirate suspects. This is as a result of the robust collaboration between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. There has been a lot of synergy between NIMASA and the Navy with regard to the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act 2019.

“I also want to seize the opportunity to thank Mr. President for signing the anti-piracy law, which would facilitate sufficient prosecution of these pirates”, Jamoh said.

Represented by the agency’s Head, Legal Services, Mr. Victor Egejuru, the DG assured that with the anti-piracy law, there was ample legal framework to prosecute pirate suspects and other perpetrators of maritime offences in the country to reduce the menace to the barest minimum.

Meanwhile, Commander of Nigerian Navy Ship NNS Beecroft, Commodore Ibrahim Shettima, who gave details of the naval operation that culminated in the arrest of the suspects and subsequent rescue of the ship and crew members, said the vessel had 18 crew members comprising Chinese, Ghanaians, and Ivorians.

Shettima said, “On interception of the vessel about 140nm south of Lagos Fairway Buoy, the pirates had refused to comply with the orders of the Navy ship, hence the Nigerian Navy had to conduct an opposed boarding of the vessel. All ship crew were safely rescued, while the 10 pirate suspects were also arrested.”

He stressed the need for increased regional cooperation and information sharing, disclosing that the arrest of the pirates was due to a tip-off by the Beninoise Navy. Shettima warned criminal elements to stay away from Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea, saying the Navy has the capability to deal with such threats.