Few weeks ago, precisely on July 25th, 2022, the day set aside for the annual celebration of ‘African Day of Seas and Oceans’ by the African Union passed with little activities for celebration. The day passed without the usual maritime-centric fanfare or industry symposiums; nevertheless, it presented an opportunity for thoughtful reflection on the African maritime domain, x-ray the journey so far, milestones achieved, as well as the challenges ahead.
African Day of Seas and Oceans, focuses on raising awareness on the critical role played by Africa’s oceans and seas in attaining sustainable development goals (SDGs) within the framework of the Transformation Agenda 2030 as well as African Agenda 2063.
It also highlights the opportunities and challenges facing Africa’s resources in its seas, oceans, rivers and lakes and avails a platform to deliberate appropriate policies and institutional responses on fisheries and aquaculture, environmental and biodiversity monitoring, marine tourism, disaster risk management (DRM), maritime governance, flag state and port state control, illegal activities such as; piracy, maritime terrorism, among others.
Despite the continent’s lofty ambitions since the emergence of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), there are numerous maritime challenges in the continent ranging from infrastructure to ship finance, security to human capital, policies, among others.
In the last decade, a spike in piracy and maritime related crimes especially in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) region led to consequent increase in insurance premiums on ships and cargoes, thereby creating further inflation for citizens in a continent with the lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in the world.
Amid these issues, the blue economy has been saddled with an arduous task of playing a crucial role in the African Agenda 2063 which hopes to deliver Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming the continent into the global powerhouse of the future.
Nigeria, with the largest ship tonnage in Africa and the biggest stake in the GoG, has a massive role in the realization of Africa’s blue economy goals; but it is the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) that shoulders this responsibility.
How has NIMASA fared with this onus? Has the agency created an ambience for blue economy to thrive in Nigeria? To what extent have these efforts impacted on the sub-region and the continent? Where are the gains from combating piracy? How soon will the Extra War Risk Insurance (EWRI) premiums be lifted from vessels destined for Nigeria? This report expounds expert opinions on these issues.
Piracy in the GoG region is an age-long problem, but it has been impressively managed in the last few years with visible results and commendations from industry stakeholders in-country and global players as well. There has been zero piracy attack recorded in almost eight months.
In a bid to create a peaceful maritime domain in the region, NIMASA aggregated stakeholders with an interest in the GOG maritime security to jointly agree and implement appropriate solutions to reduce the harm to seafarers and cargoes. To actualize this, the ICC Yaoundé and Nigeria formed a framework to provide shared awareness and deconfliction of activities in the Gulf of Guinea GULF OF GUINEA MARITIME COLLABORATION FORUM (GOG-MCF/SHADE). This initiative is open to all GOG countries with similar capacities to join on a voluntary basis.
GOG-MCF/SHADE focuses on counter-piracy and armed robbery by bringing together regional, international, industry and non-governmental organizations (NGO) partners to advance and coordinate near term maritime activities with a view to working toward a set of common operational objectives to protect seafarers and ships operating off the coast of West and Central Africa.
Speaking with The News Diet, a former Chairman, Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Dr. Kofi Mbiah commended this move and the consequent GoG improvement with respect to security.
The Maritime Law and Management Consultant, who is also a former Chief Executive of Ghana Shippers Authority, singled out Nigeria and NIMASA for commendation for ongoing massive collaboration in the region, even as he recommended the same approach in solving other African maritime problems.
His words: “There is no doubt that the state of piracy has gone down and this is also attributable to the high degree of information sharing, intelligence and collaboration among member states. The same approach should be utilized in the conservation of ocean resources, the protection and preservation of the marine environment. African nations should be looking at how to complement one another.”
Nigeria’s commitment to ensuring tranquility in GoG also inspired the provision of additional maritime security infrastructure with the Deep Blue Project implemented by NIMASA in conjunction with the Armed Forces, the Nigeria Police, Department of State Services, and other security agencies.
The air assets include two special mission aircrafts (SMA) for surveillance of the EEZ, three special mission helicopters (SMHs) for search and rescue, and four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The land assets are, the C4i Centre, 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol, and a 340-strong maritime security unit personnel specially trained for interdiction, while the sea assets comprise two special mission vessels (SMVs) and 17 fast interdiction boats (FIBs).
Despite these modest developments by NIMASA which have sparked a ripple effect on the GoG region, Kofi Mbiah observed that absence of national maritime policies across African states means there is no framework for the realization of blue economy potentials for member countries, the sub-region and the entire continent.
Meanwhile, Mbiah observed that Nigeria has also set the pace for West and Central Africa with the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act championed by NIMASA and he revealed that Ghana has developed a similar legislation which is at the draft stage.
“I’m sure that Ghana has taken a cue from Nigeria, but this doesn’t only have to be a development in Nigeria and Ghana alone because we are talking about an issue in the entire Gulf of Guinea. Other nations should have similar legislations so that wherever these criminals are found they can be brought to book,” he said.
Corroborating Kofi Mbiah’s views, the Principal Counsel, Jean-Chiazor and Partners, Jean-Chiazor Anishere (SAN) stated that Nigeria has become the judicial benchmark for the entire Gulf of Guinea in Admiralty matters as other member countries such as: Benin Republic, Liberia, Sao Tome & Principe, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are now using the SPOMO Act, as their model.
“These member countries are understudying the nation’s SPOMO Act following the successes recorded by Nigeria in criminalising piracy and other sea crimes in the Gulf of Guinea,” Anishere told The News Diet.
Giving an assessment of NIMASA in view of the African Day of Seas and Oceans, she observed that in recent times NIMASA has carried out series of transformation in the nation’s maritime administration which she described as major economic drivers to include the Final Billing System for Freight Charges, Improved Maritime Safety, Security, and Domain Awareness, and the Tripartite Agreement by Maritime Stakeholders.
Anishere identified other critical changes in the sector to include; the renewed capacity building drive through implementation of a five-year cabotage cessation plan, and the rejigging of the Nigerian Ship Registry.
“The implementation of the Integrated National Surveillance and Waterways Protection Solution (INSWPS) with command and control of infrastructure is part of Nigerian Government’s deep blue contract to enhance security in the Gulf of Guinea. Most importantly, the Deep Blue Project of NIMASA is a totally wide spectrum maritime security strategy which is built on four pillars: situation awareness, response capability, law enforcement and regional cooperation. With the use of satellite surveillance technologies, in combination with intelligence systems, Nigeria is able to identify with a consistent 365 days and a five-year profile, all vessels that visit our Exclusive Economic Zone. We are able to identify vessels that are believed to be engaging in suspicious activities and take appropriate actions. NIMASA is still working hard to achieve its goals in the Nigerian maritime space,” she said.
As a former Continental President of African Women in Maritime (WIMAFRICA), Anishere equally harped on the importance of empowering women to reach leadership positions in the blue economy, even as she identified fisheries as a sector where women could play significant roles in post-harvest aspects of the seafood value chain, including processing, marketing, and selling seafood.
The Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh is aware that rapid success is much more difficult to manage than failure, hence, he has begun robust engagements with stakeholders while building partnerships to sustain the tranquility on the nation’s waters and the entire Gulf of Guinea region.
According to the NIMASA boss, “the removal of War Risk Insurance Premium on Nigerian-bound vessels and their cargoes is premised on the sustained security of merchant shipping in Nigerian Waters and the greater Gulf of Guinea region. We must continue this collaboration to ensure that the gains in recent times regarding the reduction of piracy results in the removal of war risk insurance premium.”
In a bid to improve indigenous shipping, NIMASA has also secured fiscal incentives with zero Customs duty required for vessel imports even as the agency intensifies efforts to improve human capital via the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) initiated by the agency in 2008 to address the dearth of Nigerian seafarers on ocean-going vessels and the need to meet the indigenous manning requirements of coastal and inland shipping.
With Agenda 2063, if Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming into the global powerhouse of the future would be achieved in the maritime sector; there will have to be clear national maritime policies, immense collaboration and specialization among member states, better infrastructure and efficient flag and port state regimes.
Nevertheless, Africa’s most populous nation and its maritime administration, NIMASA, has to deliver on its goal for inclusive and sustainable development while providing a pathway for other countries. These signs and efforts can be seen in the NIMASA of today. Indeed, it’s the kind of NIMASA Nigeria needs and most importantly, it’s the NIMASA that Africa wants!