Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, Dr Bashir Jamoh.

Shipping activities in Nigeria in particular and the Gulf of Guinea region have in the last few years experienced exponential growth, courtesy of the multinational and multilateral partnerships entered into by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, reports FRANCIS EZEM.

The Gulf of Guinea is no doubt, one of the world’s major shipping routes. The region covers the coastal area surrounding 17 countries. Nine of them border the gulf on the Atlantic Ocean, they comprise the Republic of Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Togo and the archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe. Angola and the Republic of the Congo lie south, with Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia and Senegal to the north. The area covers 2.3 million square kilometres, with approximately 6,000 kilometres of coastline, extending from Senegal to Angola.

This region has unfortunately been wracked by criminality for decades. For instance, the waters off West Africa are plagued by piracy, sea robbery, crude oil theft and kidnap for ransom, as well as other crimes such as illegal fishing, which affects the region’s food chain. 

The region over time became very coveted for illegal fishing activities because it is barely monitored, or even not monitored at all and as a consequence, 40per cent of the fish are reportedly caught illegally in the area, leading to an estimated annual loss of income for the member countries amounting to more than $1.9 billion (1.8 billion euros) annually.

Fortunately, Nigeria, which accounts for a sizeable part of the region, also plays a leading role in managing shipping activities in the Gulf of Guinea. It is also a statement of fact that shipping activities in the region have witnessed a major boost, especially in the most recent past. These positive developments obviously could not have come by happenstance, but rather due to deliberate and carefully designed strategies and action plans adopted by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, the country’s Maritime Administration. This is given that the region was before now wracked by all manner of criminalities.

Specifically, one of these strategies is the decision of the current management of the agency led by Dr. Bashir Jamoh to institutionalise partnerships and collaborations among stakeholders both within and outside the country, through which it has achieved major milestones in boosting shipping activities in the region. Notable among these partnerships is midwifing the creation of the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum/ Shared Awareness and De-confliction GOG-MCF/SHADE. Nigeria, with the support of the Inter Regional Coordination Centre ICC Yaoundé is the brain behind this forum, which also has the support and backing of the G7++Group of Friends of the Gulf of Guinea (G7++FOGG). This singular strategy, has not only brought about cohesion among member states of the Gulf of Guinea, it has also led to positive outcomes engendered by information sharing among regional and non-regional military forces. This has, among several other benefits led to a more secure maritime space within the Gulf of Guinea region.

Some of the assets acquired under the Deep Blue Project, which were deployed to help curb piracy and other maritime crimes in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea region at large.

On the home front, the coming on stream of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure also called the Deep Blue Project, which facilitated the acquisition of critical maritime security assets and the training of manpower was a collaborative effort of the agency and the Federal Ministry of Transport on the one hand and the nation’s armed forces, especially the Nigerian Navy on the other hand.

Prior to this project, the agency also partnered other arms of the government, especially the National Assembly and the Judiciary, which led to the enactment of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act SPOMO Act, 2019, which makes the country the first in Africa to have a stand- alone anti-piracy law that has also facilitated the prosecution and conviction of pirates in the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari officially launched the assets under the project in May 2021, some of which had been deployed since February 2020 to combat piracy on land, air and sea within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone EEZ.

Little wonder there has been a drastic reduction in incidences of piracy and other maritime crimes within the region as reported by the Malaysia-based International Maritime Bureau IMB. For instance, available statistics by the IMB show that incidences of piracy, sea robbery and other related maritime crimes not only in the country but also across the entire Gulf of Guinea region have recorded a 28-year low.

These figures indicate that the Gulf of Guinea region, Nigeria inclusive has not recorded this level of decline in piracy and other maritime crimes since 1994.

The IMB report shows a drastic reduction of over 81 per cent in the number of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, including Nigeria for the second quarter of 2021. It also reported an 80 per cent reduction in the number of cases of kidnap in the region within the review period.

Details of the report show that while 33 incidents of piracy were reported in the last quarter of 2020, only six cases were reported in the second quarter of 2021, indicating a reduction by 27, representing an 81.8 per cent decline. The number of kidnapped crew in the region also declined from 50 in the last quarter of 2020 to 10 in the second quarter of 2021, which represents an 80 per cent decline.

Speaking on the achievement of these milestones albeit within a short time of deploying maritime security assets, Director General of NIMASA, Dr Bashir Jamoh attributed this sharp drop to a combination of factors, including collaborations and efforts of the agency, the Nigerian Navy, the international navies, the European Union and many other countries of the world.

“If you ask me, the sharp decline in the level of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea is as a result of concerted global efforts. Recently, Korea donated a military ship to us. I hear Japan is also planning to donate a similar equipment to us.

“So it is not only the efforts of the 25-member nations of the Gulf of Guinea that brought about the decline in the level of piracy and maritime crimes in the region, rather it is as a result of efforts across the globe. The deployment of the Deep Blue Project assets definitely played a significant role”, he said.

The agency is not resting on its oars even with this level of success achieved. Only recently, Nigeria through NIMASA signed a new Memorandum of Understanding MoU with the Republic of Korea on maritime safety and security.

This MoU provides a framework for NIMASA and the Korean Coast Guard to develop, coordinate and monitor the implementation of maritime security and safety between both organisations.

The MoU, which is for an initial period of five years and will be automatically renewed for another five years unless any of the parties withdraws six months before the expiration, covers capacity building, information sharing, search and rescue liaison and establishment of hotlines for direct communication at all times.

While the DG NIMASA, Dr. Jamoh signed on behalf of the Federal Government, the Director General, International Affairs and Intelligence Bureau, Korean Coast Guard, Seonggi Kang signed on behalf of Korea.

Speaking during the signing ceremony in Lagos recently, NIMASA DG, said the MoU will be implemented in the best interest of both countries, adding that it will ultimately enhance safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea.

“The relationship between Nigeria and Korea spans many decades. This MoU, which started with a statement of intent in 2018 is designed to reinforce the commitment of both countries to grow bilateral trade through maritime”, Jamoh said.

From left: Director for International and Intelligence Bureau of the Korean Coast Guard KCG Seonggi Kang and DG NIMASA, Dr. Jamoh during the signing of a maritime safety and security MoU in Lagos.

On his part, the Director for International and Intelligence Bureau of the Korean Coast Guard KCG Seonggi Kang commended Nigeria for its commitment to the growth of the maritime industry.

He said: “We are impressed with the Nigerian Government’s commitment to safety and security on Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea.”

The agency is also aware and conscious of the need for constant manpower development and capacity in sustaining these milestones it has already achieved not only in terms of providing maritime security and safety but also across all its core mandates.

It is in the light of this that the agency recently renewed its capacity building Memorandum of Understanding MoU, with the World Maritime University WMU, Malmo, Sweden.

This move, it was learnt, is to enhance capacity development in the country and ultimately grow the maritime industry. The MoU provides for maritime education, training, research and capacity building for officers of NIMASA with at least 10 officers funded annually by the agency to study at WMU in MSc in Maritime Affairs Programme.

In addition, NIMASA will also sponsor at least one officer per year to study in the WMU/IMLI MPhil programme in International Maritime Law and Ocean Policy under the agreement. It also provides for WMU to develop and organise short-term, specialised Executive Professional Development Courses EPDCs for NIMASA officers.

While speaking shortly after the virtual signing of the MoU, recently, DG Dr. Jamoh, noted that there is no substitute to education, insisting that: NIMASA’s ccollaboration with the WMU is to advance maritime interest while addressing the changing needs of the maritime industry based on sustainable capacity development; as education, training and capacity building play a major role in developing shipping in any nation”, he said.

It was further learnt that the agency is at an advanced stage in setting up a Regional Maritime Safety and Security Research Centre to enhance research works. The centre is to take care of capacity development in 25 African countries.

It was also learnt that graduates from the WMU who are in the employ of the agency will serve as researchers and resource persons, sharing knowledge and hopefully develop a research based sustainable framework to provide solution to issues of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea.

“The NIMASA Regional Maritime Safety and Security Research Centre is designed to be a centre of excellence in research and we will collaborate and cooperate with other countries”, Jamoh also said.

President of the WMU, Dr.Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry noted that NIMASA plays a leading role in developing capacity for the maritime industry in the Gulf of Guinea region. She commended Nigerian students who have passed through the university and welcome the renewal of the agreement. She added that NIMASA is one of the first supporters of the WMU.

“This initiative also supports the WMU’s commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals SDGs. Nigeria leads, others follow. WMU is delighted to be associated with NIMASA and its works, which extend beyond national boundaries and have a significant effect on the whole region.

“We are also pleased to have such a successful and warm relationship with NIMASA and its members of staff, it is a perfect example of international cooperation for sustainable growth. I look forward to the fruitful outcome of our collaborative efforts as articulated in the memorandum and based on the principles of equity, reciprocity and mutual benefits”, the WMU President also said.

It is expected that Nigeria in particular and the Gulf of Guinea region as a whole would continue to be the beneficiaries of this institutionalised synergy and cooperation and should be sustained.