• Sat. Jan 23rd, 2021

Niger Delta Pirate Attacks

By Edmund Chilaka

Pirate attacks along Nigeria’s waterways predate colonial times. The type of depredations now prevailing in Nigerian waters, and especially in the Niger Delta, is one of the most elusive in terms of tracking and elimination. It is complicated by partisan politics and almost an uphill task to checkmate because of Nigeria’s current fixation with north-south dichotomy and ethnic preferences.

The International Maritime Bureau ranks Nigeria in the same level with Somalia and other pirate-infested jurisdictions along the Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea. In West Africa, however, Nigeria’s record for pirate attacks is unequalled, recording 37 incidents from November 2012 to April 2013. The Shipping Association of Nigeria recently petitioned the Ministry of Defense on the matter, drawing attention to six incidents against merchant shipping and oil platforms between 20th April and 4th May, 2013. All the incidents happened in the Niger Delta. In a related development, the four largest container carriers, Maersk, CMA CGM, MSC and Hamburg Sud have snubbed the governments of West Africa in their latest combined statement on anti-piracy efforts by international jurisdictions. While acknowledging “success achieved” to “fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, they maintained silence on West Africa, whose problem is frequently Nigerian by occurrence.

According to the Shipping Association of Nigeria petition, on 20th April, four armed assailants in a speedboat boarded an oil platform at Funiwa, Bayelsa State at 02.00hrs local time and kidnapped the supervisor and an engineer.

On 23rd April, a container vessel, the Hansa Marbug, was reportedly attacked and boarded 108 nautical miles south of Bonny at 00.20hrs local time by an unknown number of assailants. They reportedly kidnapped one Kiribati, one Russian, and two Ukrainian crew members and took them back to the Nigerian coast.

On 24th April, a container vessel, Bosun, was attacked and fired upon by pirates 20 nautical miles off Bonny fairway buoy but she managed to escape with damages.

On 25th April, an offshore crew boat, the Utai 8, was transporting three crew members to Port Harcourt when the company reportedly lost contact with the vessel at 09.00hrs local time. According to the report, the vessel was believed to have been hijacked and used as a mother ship by the assailants to target other vessels in the area.

On the same day, a container vessel, the City of Xiamen, was boarded by 14 armed assailants while underway 36 nautical miles south of Brass at 21.45 hrs local time. The assailants, according to the petition, approached in two boats, one being the hijacked Utai 8, and the other a speedboat with an orange hull and blue wheelhouse. They boarded the City of Xiamen and kidnapped the master and four other crew members and stole cash from the ship and crew.

On 4th May, a container vessel, CC Africa Four, was attacked and fired at by pirates 20 nautical miles off Bonny fairway buoy. The vessel managed to escape with damages.

It is no longer news that the fleet of Nigerian fishing trawlers have been reduced to a small fraction of its size because of the dare-devil activities of pirates whenever they pounce on the fishermen. Many Nigerian fishing trawlers have sold off their fleet and, as a safer and cheaper alternative, import fish stocks from Argentina and Brazil, etc. It’s cheaper for the companies but a huge capital flight for Nigeria as its import bill for fish is currently N105b annually. Figures released by the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITOA) reckoned the losses to its members from pirate attacks in the Niger Delta at $10m.

The law enforcement agents used to be more proactive against pirates before the last orchestrated clamour for resource control by Niger Delta governors in the new millennium. That era brought in its wake the formation and deadly campaigns of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) against the international oil companies (IOCs), their installations and identified federal government assets.

As a direct fallout from these hostilities, Nigeria’s oil production was shut-in to the tune of 60% by 2006. Nigeria’s oil exports dropped to an all-time low of 800,000 barrels per day leading to a loss of $23.7 billion in the first nine months of 2008. All IOCs operating in swamp fields in the Niger Delta were directly hit by various attacks against pipelines and flow-stations since that time. Hundreds of local and foreign seafarers and all personnel linked with the IOCs and their service companies are deemed legitimate targets by MEND and other pressure or militant groups in the Niger Delta.

Activities like pipeline vandalization, blow-up of oil installations, hijack of vessels and kidnap of personnel and even civilians have flared up since this inglorious era. As at 2012, it emerged that between 2007 and 2009, SPDC alone spent $343m to protect its staff and installations in Nigeria. This protection umbrella involved “…a 1,200-strong internal police force in Nigeria, plus a network of plainclothes informants”, according to Guardian of London. It was not revealed whether this force included the ubiquitous Mopol, the special anti-riot policemen, other detachments from the Nigerian army, navy and civil defense corps.

The ramifications for law and order in Nigeria were far-reaching. Once MEND and associated gangs of freelance buccaneers, warlords and gun runners proved that they could confront the federal government and Big Oil with impunity, every other target was fair game. Secondly, once the depredations got covered under the amorphous titles of environmental activism and resource control, the entire Niger Delta territory became one huge no man’s land for anyone who has the courage to buy a gun and pull the trigger in any desired direction. That was when piracy mushroomed.

With the amnesty programme of the federal government, kingpins of this anomie have been rehabilitated into society and have wormed their way into top government positions in one form or the other. It is clear as daylight that the current beneficiaries of the instruments of Nigeria’s federal government literally shot their way to power through blackmail: it’s either they rule or Nigeria burns! Is it any wonder that their apparatchiks maintain such fiery rhetoric in the approach to the contentious 2015 elections? Under such an atmosphere, freelance pirates are comfortable to operate under famous alibis in the full knowledge that even if they were caught, the legal system is not in a strong position to sanction them.

To begin to understand the anatomy of the Niger Delta violence, you should consider a few questions. For example, to whom was the huge payment made in the SPDC security expenditure of $343m between 2007 and 2009? Aside from the obvious cost of maintaining the 1,200 standing internal army, was the money also used for the settlement of ransom fees? Was it used to settle community leaders who have a leash on the youths? And the most important question for our topic is, where does law enforcement come in in this paraphernalia of settlement and cash-for-peace? In today’s Nigeria, where lies political authority and the state in all this arrangements to accommodate deviancy and aberration? And finally, what kind of a Nigerian ruler can rein in the Niger Delta militants and return the society in that part of the world to a state of normality?

For starters, the Niger Delta crisis results in a huge transfer of Nigeria’s wealth to the Niger Delta people by legal and illegal means. In all likelihood, few beneficiaries of such a situation quickly want to see the flowing tap stopped, no matter how moralistic this may be. This partly explains Nigeria’s socio-political quandary. For how long therefore is Nigeria likely to be beholden to welders of illegal and guerrilla authority, be they Niger Delta militants or Boko Haram insurgents? Answer: for as long as it takes for a courageous and fearsome leader to arrive at the Aso Rock Villa.

A review of the operations of guerilla movements through history reveals that they mean war whenever they become properly organized to fight a cause. Take the loosely organized Viet Cong forces in Vietnam in the 1960s or the Al Qaeda / Taliban recipes in Iraq and Afghanistan in the new millennium. Loosely organized in guerilla tactics, they wearied the thousands-strong US well-trained, well-equipped army.

In Somalia in 1993, Black Hawk Down was an international episode that saw the defeat of US boots on the ground in Mogadishu at the hands of a raggedly militia. When the dust cleared, the casualty list read 18 US soldiers killed and 70 wounded, and more than 500 Somalis also killed.

In 1979, The USSR invaded Afghanistan much to the opposition of the Talibans who formed a militia to withstand the superpower. By 1989, the USSR withdrew in shame as the Pashtun tribesmen who knew their land hunkered down and resisted the Red Army to the end. Thus, in many cases when well organized military forces have fought against slippers-clad militias, the former have lost important campaigns, largely underscoring the notion that asymmetrical warfare is like an uncharted territory to even the best trained military force.

Militancy and insurgency in Nigeria, whether at the Niger Delta or on the shores of Lake Chad, tend to assume the profile of asymmetrical warfare. Campaigns against both MEND and Boko Haram have not registered decisive successes. They are being lost largely from complications of partisan politics and a dangerous lack of forceful leadership to take them on for exactly what they are: challenges to the authority of the state.

President Goodluck Jonathan lamented that the Boko Haram had infiltrated his cabinet, without stating any remedy. The amnesty programme is seen by some as a silver bullet; what is not even an unqualified success in the Niger Delta where it was implemented. This is proven by instances where the so-called repentant militants threatened during demonstrations to go back to the creeks and indeed by these instances of a spike in piratical attacks against merchant shipping and oil platforms.

The Shipping Association of Nigeria had requested ministerial action to defend merchant shipping and ensure safe passage for vessels and crews plying Nigerian waters. The four major container carriers led by Maersk in the recent press release said they controlled 40% of global container shipping and view piracy for the threat it represented to the industry. They identified the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean and West Africa as the problem areas for piracy. Their meeting, according to the online press release is mainly to share information “on security measures, piracy policies and procedures as well as coordination with relevant stakeholders.

“Although we have seen a decline in piracy activity over the past year, piracy continues to be a concern for the shipping industry, and therefore we still need our piracy consensus meetings where we can cooperate on responses to the threat to ensure the safety and security of our seafarers”, the statement continued and commended the naval presence at the Gulf of Aden and the “pursuit of appropriate legal frameworks to ensure pirates are prosecuted and held responsible for their crimes”.

West African nations seem to be in lack of substantial progress in the major indices being used by the carriers to measure successful anti-piracy campaigns, such as law enforcement and prosecution of apprehended pirates and human capacity and platforms for sea patrol. In Nigeria, even the The Nigerian Navy, because of old and unserviceable fleets, is now largely unfit for the battle with pirates and needs a huge injection of materiel and young blood to ensure frequent patrols of the waterways as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Chris Anyanwu, recently acknowledged.

“For you to chase people, you need to have the right vessels to give them a chase. We have to be present and dominant every inch of our territorial water and our territorial water is massive, one third of the country’s landmass. It will take a lot of money to equip our Navy,” she lamented, while pointing out that the increasing oil theft, vandalism and illegal bunkering were connected to a big and influential cabal aided by the foreign firms and illegal tankers on the high sea.

Furthermore, the jury is still out on the track record of the highly orchestrated and expensive collaboration between the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) which gave birth to the Global West Vessel Specialist Limited under the control of famous ex-militant Government Tompolo. One of the curious aspects of the project is the concept that ex-militants who used to raid the waterways can successfully rout pirates or pose a sufficiently deterrent force? The relevant question is whether they will do so with remarkable commitment, and for how long?

What therefore, is the future of the shipping, maritime and oil industry in the face of these challenges? It appears that only a determined and astute visionary Nigerian leader can effectively arm the Navy and enforce the requisite discipline to ensure it performs adequate patrol and defense functions, instead of being compromised by the outlaws.

From all appearances, until the emergence of such a political strongman who can ensure that the law takes its course to rein in militancy and insurgency by force and coercion instead of by settlement, the Nigerian society, nay the international shipping community, will not be rid of these monsters. The downside of pecuniary political settlement is that it is anti-Machiavellian; it doesn’t work in the long run. For, as Machiavelli advised rulers and potentates in The Prince, the loyalty that flows from fear is greater than that secured by love

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