The recent Marine Notice issued by the management of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) to Ship Masters, Ship owners and other operators whose vessels currently enjoy some level of security at the designated anchorage, seems to signal fresh battle of the Secured Anchorage Area, SAA, controversy.
The latest move is coming despite the intervention of the National Assembly on issue which has almost torn apart frontline operator of the Lagos area Secured Anchorage Area, Ocean Marine Solution Limited and the management of NPA under the leadership of Hadiza Bala Usman, the Managing Director.
At the peak of the dispute between the operator and the authority, the Senate intervened in order for the status quo remain, thus restricting the management of NPA from taking any action that will stop OMSL from carrying out its activities. But the new move, that is the issuance of a marine notice on the anchorage is seen as not only been controversial but band to generate fresh crisis. Above all, it is perceived as an attempt to undermine the institution of the Senate. Hence, concerned stakeholders think it’s uncalled for and may lead to further impact the nation’s economy negatively even as it struggles to survive the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
While striving not to repeat facts that already in the public domain and have been stated severally, it is important to emphasize that the collaboration between the Ocean Marine Solution Limited and the Nigerian Navy which is primarily aimed predates the emergence of the current management of the NPA.
Although some industry watchers have attributed the unfolding scenario to a lack of understanding of the importance of the service being rendered by OMSL to the nation’s maritime industry in particular and the Gulf of Guinea in general, others believe that it is propelled by the Nigerian factor.
Those who hold the later view wonder why the NPA management after the decision by the nation’s Senate, is insisting that it is not bond by such. The NPA administration had while explaining the latest marine notice it issued stated that, “A Committee of the National Assembly can only play an advisory role in this matter, NPA is not compelled to abide by their directive.”
What this portray in its entirety is an attempt to create a face off between the agency and the National Assembly. Those knowledgeable about such confrontations argues that the outcome is usually not favourable to national interest.
Interestingly, the management of OMSL has remained calm over the controversy as it has refused to join issues with anybody except for the invitation of the National Assembly it had to honour.
Moreover, in what some has described as working for national interest OMSL has continue to provide security service at the anchorage to the admiration of ship owners and operators that anchor their vessels at the designated area.
Hence the latest developments is perceived as despising the National Assembly and trying to flex muscles with the lawmakers. As the move is a violation of the stand of the lawmakers as reflected in the committee’s submission.
While it is a fact that NPA is the agency responsible for the administration of the ports across the country, it is not statutorily bond to provide the much need security for the safety of the maritime sector. More so when it comes to unsecured anchorage areas under disputes.
Worst still, it becomes more of concern when the Nigerian Navy that is saddled with the constitutional responsibility of providing the required security is in collaboration with OMSL on the issues at stake. Thus, making it appears as if the controversy is not necessarily based on what is being thrown at the public.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the management of OMSL is willing and ready to partner with the Nigerian Ports Authority on the secured anchorage area for the lager interest of the nation and its economy.
Stakeholders are however of the opinion that if the security arrangement in the Lagos Anchorage District is replicated in the Eastern ports, it will curb the issue of insecurity currently being experienced in that axis and boost the economy of the Eastern flanks.
Moreover, since OMSL does not have any direct business dealings with NPA as the relationship in question is with the Nigerian Navy, purely for security purposes and not port operations, stakeholders are of the view that the port management can and should better concentrate on the more pressings issues. This includes the challenges of bad port access roads, port congestion and putting in place an efficient system that should also be cost effective.
NPA should also know that as a result of the collaborative effort of both OMSL and the Navy, vessels at the anchorage cannot be arrested.
Recall that the Ports Authority, late last year warned vessels against anchoring at the Secured Anchorage Area and threatened to arrest any ship found within the axis, but the threat did not survive as ship owners preferred to go for proven security facility even at a higher cost rather than risk the danger inherent.
Threat to national economy
According to the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel Report, piracy, which is the fundamental reason for the anchorage initiative poses a great challenge for the country, as 2019 report showed that Nigeria lost approximately $2.8 billion in 2018, due to crude oil and maritime crimes.
A maritime analysts, Emeka Ejiofor, who spoke on the renewed efforts to curb OMSL’s involvement in the SAA project noted that the action will cost the country more than can be imagined.
His words, “The disruption of the SAA arrangement operated by OMSL might cause the shipping community in the country a huge lost. As ships may be compelled to divert goods destined to Nigeria to other countries which will not do the country’s economy any good.
“Diversion of goods to neighbouring countries will surely have a catastrophic effect on our economy, this is why it is surprising that this is coming from those who should know better.”
Evidence of result oriented performance
Maybe there is a need to go down memory lane to ascertain the basis of these malicious play and its consequences to the Maritime industry and the nations economy.
Recall that Nigeria was at the couple of months ago saved from the negative publicity of being reputed to have unsafe sea territory when piracy and nefarious criminal activities strives as a combined team of Nigeria Navy and Ocean Marine Solution Limited (OMSL) rescued a Chinese cargo ship attacked in Gulf of Guinea.
According to reports obtained from FleetMon Explorer, an international news agency, a general cargo ship ‘Huanghai Glory,’ which left the Lekki Port, east of Lagos Nigeria on Thursday March 5, 2020 was reported to have been attacked and boarded by pirates at 1820 UMT some 85 nautical miles (NM) south of Lagos Nigeria.
The report, the ship and its 23 crew members (all Chinese) were said to have been under the siege of the Pirates for about 24 hours after the matter was reported to the Nigerian authorities.
Independent investigation by our reporters revealed that neither the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) nor the Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA), whom reliable source said were adequately informed could render any rescue efforts until a patrol boat (NNS SPARROW) owned and operated by the joint team of Nigeria Navy and OMSL under the the Safe Anchorage Area (SSA) of Lagos port rose to the occasion.
Narrating the incident, FleetMon Explorer stated: “General cargo ship HUANGHAI GLORY reported by Dryad Global as attacked, boarded by pirates at 1820 UTC Mar 5, some 85 nm south of Lagos Nigeria, Gulf of Guinea.”
Adding that, “The ship was drifting after attack, not responding to contact requests.”
The report stated that tracking process monitored showed that, “the ship started moving at around 1300 UTC Mar 6, after about an hour went adrift again. As of 1500 UTC Mar 6, the ship was still adrift or moving at slow speed.”
It however explained that, “Nigerian Navy patrol boat NNS SPARROW approaching – in nearly 24 hours after alert, in vicinity of Lagos.”
According the to report, the 23 crew members of the ship were reportedly all Chinese.
Although, FleetMon Explorer did not expatiate on the details of patrol boat NNS SPARROW which rescued the ship and its crew members our investigation confirmed that it belong to OMSL, as it is part of the vessels purchased by the firm and hitherto deployed to the Lagos water coast in assisting the Nigerian Navy to carry out patrol operations as part of the SSA agreement which has in recent times come under attack by the management of NPA.
Recall that the move was perceived by some industry stakeholders as an attempt to further increase the level of unemployment in the country as well as frustrate a noble ideal put in place to secure the nation’s maritime space especially the Lagos port from embarrassing situations such as what occurred during the weekend.
Interestingly, our findings shows that the ship ‘Huanghai Glory,’ which was rescued by the ‘NNS SPARROW’ is not under any contractual agreement with OMSL before it offered to intervene on the platform of National interest.
A source at the firm who confirmed the incident said, “The vessel is not our client but the Navy beckoned on us to assist considering the amount of bureaucracy it would take for them to execute.”
Pirates are expanding in West Africa, threatening offshore oil storage
However, operators may have to As international oil companies (IOCs) grapple with a historic plunge in crude prices, a rise in piracy is also poised to threaten supply chains.
The first quarter of 2020 saw a spike in piracy around the world, with 47 attacks compared to 38 for the same period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The Gulf of Guinea, a key production hub surrounded by eight oil exporting countries in West Africa, has emerged as a global hot spot, accounting for 21 attacks so far this year and 90% of all kidnappings at sea in 2019.
Most attacks still occur in Nigerian waters, but piracy is expected to rise in 2020 and 2021 and expand further into neighboring states, posing serious concerns for shipping and international oil companies, according to research by political risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
The number of crew kidnapped off the Gulf of Guinea climbed 50% to 121 in 2019, up from 78 in 2018, and the Gulf has now surpassed more well-known areas such as the Strait of Malacca – a waterway which separates Malaysia and Singapore from Indonesia – to become the global hotspot.
“This trend will continue into 2020 and into 2021 as regional security forces, hampered by security hot spots across the continent, and a lack of adequate equipment, continue to be unable to effectively tackle piracy,” Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in a research note.
“The prospect of international assistance is equally remote as international shipping routes avoid the Gulf of Guinea. Both regional shipping and oil and gas operators should expect further disruptions to supply chains, export routes and increased costs as more ransom payments will be necessary to liberate crews.”
Around 60% of incidents in 2019 occurred in Nigerian territorial waters, specifically in the areas surrounding the Niger Delta and, to a lesser extent, the shipping hub of the Port of Lagos. Raymakers highlighted that the socio-economic factors underpinning these incidents were unlikely to change.
Risks to the oil industry
While pirates traditionally limited their operations to raiding oil tankers in order to sell their hold on the black market, the collapse of oil prices in 2015 forced them to alter their strategy, refocusing their efforts on abducting crews for ransom, Raymakers highlighted.
Unlike their Somali counterparts, pirates in the Delta do not have use of secured ports or beaching areas for captured ships, which limits their ability to hold a vessel or its contents for ransom and means operators in the region therefore rarely lose ships or cargo. However, they do face delays and increased costs due to the disappearance of the ship’s crews and subsequent ransom payments.
“IOCs like Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron and Eni operating out of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria are particularly at risk of experiencing sporadic yet highly disruptive instances of piracy in their supply chains,” Raymakers said.
“While many have learned lessons from developing comprehensive security structures in order to protect their assets and personnel in Nigeria, smaller supply and service companies will be highly exposed to expanding piracy risks.”
Given the recent collapse in global oil prices due to falling demand, Verisk anticipates that pirates are likely to attempt to board static tankers used as offshore storage facilities for unsold production. The ships’ crews and cargo represent “ideal and relatively simple targets for pirates,” the report said.
The indiscriminate nature of abductions means pirates are likely to target IOCs’ supply chains and oil shipments leaving export terminals in the Niger Delta, as evidenced by the abduction of seven crew members on the ExxonMobil-contracted supply vessel Zaro off the coast of Equatorial Guinea in December 2019.
IOCs will also have to contend with the risk that pirates will seek to abduct workers, particularly expatriates, directly from oil platforms in the Niger Delta.
“The kidnapping of three oil workers from a Niger Delta Petroleum Resources (NDPR) oil platform in Ogbele in April 2019 highlights the ease and speed with which such an operation can be conducted,” Raymakers said.
Three employees of Acme Energy Integrated Services Limited, which owned and managed the rig and was working on NDPR’s drilling campaign, were kidnapped and nine others injured when unknown gunmen attacked on April 26, 2019. The three kidnapped workers were released without harm on May 28, 2019, NDPR confirmed.
“Indeed, pirates have easy access to high speed crafts and a plethora of small arms giving them the firepower and agility to conduct such operations,” Raymakers explained.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the kidnapping in April 2019 took place on an oil platform owned and managed by Acme Energy Integrated Services Limited, which was working on behalf of Niger Delta Petroleum Resources.
Giving the nature and sensitivity of the matter, a call to appreciation and acceptance to the reputable move of OMSL may not be out of place. It is no gainsaying that the company who has been working tirelessly and quietly mitigating against all pirate associated risk with the collaboration of the Nigerian Navy at no cost to Government, is rendering it’s services to desired clients who are so willing and happy to do so. Or is this another case of unending personal vendetta?
Photo: Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman.
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