The Nigerian Navy, one of Africa’s most respected and powerful naval forces, recently commissioned several new assets to add to its fleet as it scales up its operations against pirates, terrorists and other criminals in the Gulf of Guinea – the economic lifeline to 16 West African countries, including Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa. As Adam Sheppard reports, the economic and security implications for the sub-region are enormous.
The Nigerian Navy set a new historic milestone in December 2021 when the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, commissioned an array of vessels and helicopter to add to the country’s already existing formidable naval assets.
The Nigerian Navy, equipped with various operational sea and air assets including surveillance capabilities, manned by well-trained and highly motivated personnel, is certainly one of Africa’s largest and powerful naval forces in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). Nigeria’s maritime area of interest extends beyond her immediate environment to include the entire GoG.
The GoG has a coastline of about 2,874nm, stretching from Angola in Southern Africa to Senegal in West Africa. The region has a dominant portion of global hydrocarbon deposits and is geographically positioned with comparative advantage owing to the absence of narrow maritime shipping lanes, straits or chokepoints linking major global shipping destinations.
The GoG’s rich endowment unfortunately has the unintended consequence of attracting various threats such as piracy, smuggling and kidnapping for ransom that continue to affect the economic lifeline of countries in the region.
The Nigerian Navy has established dedicated naval operations and initiatives to counter piracy/sea robbery attacks in Nigeria’s maritime environment, while also engaging in deeper consultations with maritime stakeholders. These initiatives have led to several successes in anti-piracy operations.
Pertinently, significant successes were achieved in bringing the rate of piracy to the barest minimum, especially in the last nine months of 2021. Several other attacks on vessels in Nigerian waters were aborted by a prompt response from NN ships on patrol using intelligence from her robust MDA infrastructure: Falcon Eye and Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC) assets.
During the commissioning of the newly acquired ships, boats and helicopter into the Nigerian Navy fleet at the Naval Dockyard Limited, Victoria Island, Lagos, His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari applauded the efforts of the Nigerian Navy towards improving maritime security in the GoG and safeguarding Nigeria’s maritime environment, including its hydrocarbon resources and accompanying oil and gas infrastructure.
He added that, considering the nation’s current huge dependence on oil and gas revenues, the Nigerian Navy was undeniably a major contributor to the economic mainstay of Nigeria. The President therefore commended the Navy’s efforts in the fight against criminality within and beyond Nigeria’s maritime domain and further expressed his confidence that the newly commissioned platforms will greatly enhance the efforts of the Service in further securing Nigeria’s maritime environment.
President Buhari added that he was especially delighted by the commissioning of the Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) III, Nigerian Navy Ship OJI, which is the third in the series of SDBs built locally and entirely by the Nigerian Navy engineers.
This was a proud moment for the Nigerian Navy and the high point of the event. Mr President also performed the keel laying ceremony for SDB IV and SDB V. He lauded the Navy for maintaining its drive for local content development – which is in tandem with the policy of his administration.
The President reiterated his commitment to adequately equipping the Nigerian Navy with the right mix of platforms, which led to the Service taking delivery of the Nigerian Navy’s first-ever purpose-built Offshore Survey Vessel, NNS LANA, constructed by OCEA, France, in May 2021, while also acknowledging the business dependability of OCEA for the timely completion of the contract.
Enhancing Navy’s constitutional role
The Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, who was the host for the commissioning/induction ceremony, stated that NNS LANA would be involved in the hydrographic survey of Nigeria’s territorial waters towards ensuring safety of navigation within the country’s waterways.
Similarly, the SDB III, the Inshore Patrol Crafts and Fast Patrol Boats would be deployed for surveillance and patrol duties within Nigerian waters. Vice Admiral Gambo stressed that, this undertaking was aimed at enhancing the performance of the Nigerian Navy’s constitutional role regarding the hydrographic survey and policing of Nigerian waters.
Vice Admiral Gambo also stated that the induction of the new platforms would lead to a further decline in criminal activities in Nigeria’s maritime domain. He reiterated that the Nigerian Navy will continue to factor in the realities of national imperatives and apply optimal policies and strategies in addressing the security challenges in the nation’s maritime domain – including the GoG.
Vice Admiral Gambo, who was appointed by President Buhari in January 2021, added that the commissioning of NNS OJI and other locally built vessels was a manifestation of the Federal Government’s commitment to maintaining a well-equipped Navy that Nigerians would be proud of.
He thanked President Buhari for his tremendous support to the Service, including those that have contributed one way or the other to make the dream a reality and urged maritime and security stakeholders to sustain a robust cooperation towards safeguarding the nation’s maritime domain.
Massive decline in sea criminality
With the induction of the new platforms, the Nigerian Navy continues to beef up its operational capacity as well as the scope and depth of its activities, both in Nigeria’s waters and the GoG.
The surveillance capability of the Nigerian Navy was enhanced with the commissioning of the Falcon Eye state-of-the-art Maritime Domain Awareness Surveillance System by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, representing President Buhari in July 2021 at the Nigerian Naval Headquarters in Abuja. The system incorporates various sensors located along Nigeria’s enormous coastline.
During the commissioning, the Vice President pointed out that Nigeria loses around $26bn a year to criminal activities, particularly piracy and sea robbery and this fact underscores the need to enhance maritime security in Nigeria’s waters.
Speaking at the launching of the System, Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo said the Falcon Eye “translates to complete coverage of Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone”. He stated that monitoring and analysis of data from the various sites strategically located along the nation’s coastline is facilitated through the four Falcon Eye centres in Abuja, Lagos, Yenagoa and Calabar.
He added that the coverage of the satellite aspect of the Automatic Identification System of Falcon Eye extends beyond Nigerian waters to Côte d’Ivoire in the West, Cameroon in the East, and Angola in the South East. Pertinently, the system, combined with the various sea and air platforms, in addition to well thought-out strategies and vigorous leadership,
resulted in a steep decline in criminal activities within the nation’s maritime domain and the GoG in 2021.
The Nigerian Navy, working with foreign navies, conducted three major exercises which include Ex OBANGAME EXPRESS, Ex GRAND AFRICAN NEMO and Ex SAFE DOMAIN 1 in 2021.
Records indicate that in 2021, 44 vessels involved in illegal bunkering were arrested, leading to the recovery of 1,664,628.61 barrels of crude oil and 45,752.91 metric tons of Automotive Gas Oil, valued at N55.1bn and N11.8bn respectively.
In October 2021, the Nigerian Navy arrested a Singapore-flagged bulk cargo ship, MV CHAYANEE NAREE, with 32.9kg of smuggled cocaine. The 22 crew, all reported to be Thai nationals, are being detained on-board the ship at the Lagos Port Complex while the investigation continues.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Global Piracy Report of 14 July 2021 indicates the lowest total of piracy and sea robbery against ships in 27 years. Notably, there was a marked decline in piracy in the GoG in 2021 with 11 pirate incidents recorded compared to 44 in 2020. Similarly, there was a decline in pirate attacks and sea robbery in Nigeria’s waters, where the country reported only 11 pirate incidents and 3 sea robberies in 2021, compared to 22 pirate incidents and 16 sea robberies in 2020.
These figures convey proof of the effectiveness of the Nigerian Navy’s maritime security engagements. The security and economic implications are quite enormous not only for Nigeria but the sub-region as efforts to neutralise the activities of criminal elements and economic saboteurs will stimulate and accelerate maritime trade and commerce, reduce costs including insurance premiums and hopefully put an end to the smuggling of crude oil, which the country depends so heavily on.
Having articulated his vision and mission statements, and produced a Strategic Directive document as well as the Nigerian Navy Strategic Plan, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, has won the full confidence of officers and ratings, who affirmed their loyalty and vow to keep the nation’s waters and resources therein safe and secure for national prosperity.