With globalization, the world is increasingly interdependent and complex. Conventional threats of the past have given rise to new challenges that many times are not limited to regions and have no respect for international borders. Globally, sea piracy has gone haywire in the first three-quarters of 2017. Maritime nations are worried about the consequences of an ocean dominated by rising sea robbery and piracy. Modern definitions of piracy include illegal boarding, extortion, hostage taking and kidnapping of people for ransom. Others include murder, robbery, sabotage resulting in a ship sinking, and shipwrecking done intentionally to a ship.
A few days ago, I got a report from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) that within nine months of the year 2017, one hundred and twenty one piracy incidents were reported globally, out of which ninety-two vessels were boarded, five hijacked, eleven attempted attacks and thirteen vessels fired upon. This report is very frightening when one considers the importance of the oceans to global economic survival of nations. The report showed that Nigeria remains risky, having a total of twenty reports against all vessel types, sixteen of which occurred off the coast of Brass, Bonny, and Bayelsa. The report further affirms that guns were used in eighteen of the incidents and vessels were underway in seventeen out of twenty reports.
Regrettably, thirty-nine out of the forty-nine crew members kidnapped globally occurred off Nigerian waters in seven separate incidents, according to the IMB report. An observer remarked that: “In general, all waters in and off Nigeria remain risky, despite intervention in some cases by the Nigerian Navy (NN)”. “We advise vessels to be vigilant. The numbers of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea could have been higher than our figures as many incidents continue to be unreported.”
As if the remarks of the observer were not startling, BusinessDay in its edition of October 30, 2017 reported that a fishing vessel donated by the Japanese Government to the Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology in Lagos, was stolen by pirates. Surprisingly, there was no hot pursuit by any maritime security agency. It was later that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was able to trace the 272-gt vessel named SARKIN BAKA to Cameroon. Anyway, report has it that “the vessel has now been returned to Nigerian authorities”.
Piracy has existed for as long as the oceans were plied for commerce. The trend is observed to be cyclic in nature. Piracy is at the peak when there is global economic recession in which the perpetrators of this heinous crime enter the sea to steal. It is on land pirates plan, thereafter undertake acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea. Accordingly, when there is economic recession and political instability on land, pirates turn to the sea for survival.
This situation is reversed when the nation’s economy is booming. while this viewpoint is arguable, it has been observed that a number of geographic and economic characteristics of the world often produce an environment practically necessitating piracy.
So, the question is this: What is responsible for the current rise in sea piracy globally? Is it because the price of crude is increasing in the international market? At the time of writing, crude oil sells for about US$61/ barrel and as long as the economy of most nations is not stable, there is likely to be a rise in sea piracy. This is because shipping is vulnerable in two areas. First, 75 percent of the world’s maritime trade and half of its daily oil consumption pass through a handful of international straits and canals, placing international commerce at risk in major trading hubs at a few strategic chokepoints. Secondly, the infrastructure and systems that span the maritime domain have increasingly become both targets of, and conveyances for dangerous and illicit activities.
Talking about maritime crimes, it was observed that illegal exploitation of living marine resources has increased. Competition over non-living marine resources, maritime boundary disputes, resource degradation, and maritime crimes are potential areas. In justifying these observations, the United States Coast Guard Intelligence Coordination Centre in a book titled “Threats and Challenges to Maritime Security 2020,” revealed that piracy prone areas include the Caribbean, Central and South America, West and East Africa, South East and East Asia.
Furthermore, “most incidents of maritime crime occur in coastal waters with nearly 80% of all reported piracy cases occurring in territorial waters.” Piracy denies some African nations of potential revenue for economic development. It was predicted more than a decade ago by a US Navy Admiral “that organised pirate gangs may emerge in the future that will either conduct multi- ship operations or use quasi-military tactics”. This is now a reality.
The strategic importance of secure oceans to the well-being of people, places vast responsibility on navies and maritime security agencies to defeat the array of threats highlighted above. I hope that the step taken by the Federal Government, in outsourcing maritime security training to a private Israeli firm for three years, at a cost of US$ 195 million will reduce the security risks in Nigeria’s coastal waters. Most importantly, African navies must continuously share in the responsibility of maintaining global maritime security, particularly in regional waters. While African resources are limited, support for maritime cooperation with international navies will be stronger, by using other instruments of national power to address threats on land before they spill over into the global commons.