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Nigerian Navy - Anti-Piracy Operations

The Nigerian navy redoubled its efforts in tackling piracy off the Gulf of Guinea in 2016. This direct action is a response to the rapid increase in pirate attacks within this region that have a different modus operandi to that of Somali piracy (source: Engagements with the pirates and the Nigerian Navy is unusual. What is often the case is that pirates hijack a ship to steal the cargo before the vessel is released back to the authorities. However, a doubling of incidents since 2012 threatens the export trade not to mention the hike in insurance costs as a result. This had a devastating effect on a country that is struggling to deal with insurgency, poverty and corruption.

After a period of détente following the April 2015 general elections, the Niger Delta began stirring. Militants had made their support of the new President Muhammadu Buhari conditional on the continued payment of “amnesty stipends” and inflated security contracts. In the face of drastically reduced oil revenue, President Buhari chose to reduce the payments and let the security contracts worth hundreds of millions expire. Predictably, attacks against shipping and pipelines increased in 2016, with 40 vessels attacked 74 individuals kidnapped off Nigeria as of 21 April 2016.

Sorties in response to attacks as well as the successful action against the hijacked tanker MAXIMUS (11-19 February) indicated the Nigerian Navy up to the challenge. The Nigerian Navy inadvertently redirected criminal energies to a less predictable sea crime: kidnapping for ransom. On 15 April 2016 the Nigerian Navy responded by launching Operation Tsare Teku (Haussa for “Protection of the Sea”) with a force consisting of NNS OKPABANA, NNS KYANWA, NNS SAGBAMA and NNS ANDONI as well as 3 other ships held in reserve.

Pirates attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have increased in recent years. Armed gangs boarded both commercial and private vessels to rob travelers. The navy has limited capacity to respond to criminal acts at sea. As of 2010 the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was capable of receiving and recording any distress signals from vessels operating along the West African coast, but had no capacity to respond. NIMASA also had a Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC) repeater station which provided the capacity to see and identify ships up to 30 nautical miles off-shore, but wanted to be able to monitor ship movements 200 nautical miles off shore. NIMASA possessed one search and rescue helicopter but had no capacity to do aerial surveillance.

Large numbers of ships are identified by radar but not transmitting automatic identification signals (AIS) as required by international maritime law. Ships with no AIS, or AIS that is turned off, are presumed to be in violation of the International Maritime Organization code and therefore suspected of engaging in illegal activities. Some of the ships without AIS may also be decommissioned and abandoned tankers which are anchored off Lagos harbor. As many as 150 of these ships are off-shore according to the Indigenous Shipowners' Association and their lights create a false shoreline at night. Armed sea robbers and pirates use these derelict ships as their base of operations for launching attacks on vessels awaiting entrance to Lagos or already alongside at Lagos port.

It was tempting to see a new Somalia in the Gulf of Guinea, a troubled body of water on the Atlantic side of Africa. The problem is there are no navies in the Gulf of Guinea. Nigerian oil is important to the European Union, where imports nearly doubled between 2010 and 2012. In the US, imports have fallen in recent years in favor of domestic crude.

Nigeria is a hotspot for violent piracy and armed robbery. Though many attacks are believed to go unrecorded, International Maritime Bureau [IMB] received reports of 14 incidents, with nine vessels boarded. In the first of these, ten pirates armed with AK47 rifles boarded and hijacked a tanker and took all nine crewmembers hostage. They then transferred the fuel oil cargo into another vessel, which was taken away by two of the attackers. The Ghanaian navy dispatched a naval vessel to investigate as the tanker moved into its waters, then arrested the pirates on board.

A report in January 2015 by the IMB counted 48 pirate incidents in the area in 2013; a total of 36 people were kidnapped for ransom, and one person was killed. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said solutions in the region must be shore-based — in other words, with local governments in the lead rather than international navies.

The upsurge in piracy may be connected to a specifically Nigerian problem: the theft of large quantities of crude oil from pipelines in the Niger Delta. Oil-theft networks siphon an average of 100,000 barrels of oil a day from the country’s poorly guarded infrastructure on land. Pirate operations in the Gulf of Guinea tend to be crudely run in comparison to the sophisticated oil-theft networks, yet connections between the two groups exist.

In response to the upsurge in piracy and other criminal activities in the Niger Delta region of the country, the Navy launched a massive operation April 16, 2016 to ensure effective security of the maritime sector of the nation. The operation, code-named ‘Operation Tsare Teku’, came barely 48 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari issued a strong warning to deal decisively with the trouble makers in the region in the same manner the federal government is tackling the Boko Haram terrorists.

Vice Admiral Ibas said that four ships had been deployed in the area including NNS Okpabana, NNS Kyanwa, NNS Sagbama, and NNS Andoni, while the remaining three naval ships would join the operation later on. These are NNS Centenary, NNS Burutu, and NNS Zaria.

The Nigerian Navy on 24 July 2016 deployed 10 warships in a massive operation aimed to stop pirate attacks on local and international merchant ships on the nation’s waterways. The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, spoke at the launch of the operation, codenamed: “Tsare Teku II,” in Onne, Rivers State. Ibas said the operation would also contain high spate of attacks by oil thieves on critical oil and gas installations and other criminalities prevalent on the nation’s territorial waters. He said Tsare Teku II was a continuation of an earlier operation it launched in the first quarter of 2016 to tackle incessant attacks on merchant ships.

The Nigerian Navy on 02 August 2016 said that Operation `Tsare Teku` had reduced piracy and hostage taking in the country’s waterways close to zero percent. The Director of Information, Naval Headquarters, Commodore Christian Ezekobe, made the disclosure during a familiarisation visit to NAN headquarters in Abuja. Ezekobe said that there were two incidences of piracy within the first 90 days which showed that there would be a zero incidence report in the next 90 days. All Naval commands had a mandate to put at least one platform to sea each day, aside the ongoing operation Tsare Teku. The initiative had tremendously increased the presence of the Navy in the country’s waters.

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