SILHOUTTE: Nigerian Pipeline Protection And The Spike In Piracy Attacks
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) penultimate week said the nation’s territorial waters recorded zero piracy in 2022, and throughout the first quarter of this year.
However, three successive piracy attacks were carried out within our contiguous territory, the Gulf of Guinea (GOG), for which Nigeria also plays a key surveillance and anti-piracy role, alongside regional and international partners.
It is also instructive that crude thefts and its concomitant pipeline breaking and illegal connections for the purposes of siphoning petroleum products and crude has dropped significantly since 2022 when the assets monitoring and protection were contracted to Tantita Security Services, a private firm by the federal government.
Evidently, while it is safe to suggest that the recent pirate attacks within the GOG invalidates NIMASA’s claim of zero incidence in the past fifteen months, perhaps what could be claimed with certain amount of moral authority is the level of appreciable deterrence so far recorded, to which NIMASA must be commended.
But any other assertion would amount to playing to the gallery in view of the reinvented Nigeria/Younde Pact on maritime security and safety, which clearly emphasizes coverage of the entire GOG and Nigerian territorial waters, within the framework of Nigeria’s Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, otherwise known as the Deep Blue Project.
Nigeria should be worried about the spike in piracy activities within the regional waters, and hence redouble her efforts in the area of surveillance and monitoring by ensuring that the critical infrastructure and assets under the DBP are up and running.
Nigeria has been in a continuous struggle to be regarded as the regional giant, given all of its per capita resources, it is only proper that we must strive to convey that image with certainty and pride, since it is said that whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.
This is where the leadership and executive management of NIMASA must be commended for their foresight as far as the DBP is concerned, and as far as the regional partnership that has been entered into is concerned.
There can be no room for complacency, especially now there are indications the intense and unremitting protection of the nation’s pipelines against vandals has seen those involved in the criminality running away and returning to the seas as pirates.
According to grapevine report pipeline breaking has gone bad business since the assumption of duty of the operatives of Tantita Security Services, owned by High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, better known as Tompolo; who is believed to have been deploying the ‘iron-cut-iron’ principle in frustrating the ruffians, with an uncommon dexterity and his equal mastery of the Niger Delta jungle and creeks, where most of the pipeline breakages reportedly takes place.
Tantita Security Services spokesman, Mr. Paul Bebenimibo who confirmed the development to our reporter said that in most cases, pipeline vandals and pirates are the same people, who he explained seek the most convenient locations to ply their trade.
He disclosed that since the heat from their operatives has become unbearable, majority of the criminals have run away, further stating that out of those that have given up on pipeline breaking are returning to the waters, which he claimed caused the recent spike in piracy attacks.
Bebenimibo who expressed optimism about improved relationship with the security agencies and the navy particularly, noted that the recent spike in piracy cases in the Gulf of Guinea is a testimony of the success story of Tantila’s achievement in its pipeline surveillance assignment.
“Remember that under Tompolo (Global West Specialists Vessels Limited), we combed the waters and chased them (pirates) out before the present government suspended the contract. They went ashore and started breaking pipelines and stealing products.
“The government again called Tompolo and now that he is chasing them out of the pipelines, they have returned to where they know he has no time for them. They are going back to the sea, they have resumed attacks on ships.
“Everywhere they encounter us, we have told them that we represent the law and will break their backs because they are outlaws, it takes iron to cut iron, if they think that they understand the terrain more than us, they were joking.
“We have proved to them and they are running away to the sea where we don’t have time for them because our task is to protect the pipelines.”
It will be recalled that the Chairman of Shell BP Nigeria, Dr Osagie Okubor recently said Nigeria lost a staggering 65,700,000 barrels of oil to pipeline vandals in 2022 and first quarter of this year.
Okubor who was speaking on the occasion of the Nigerian International Energy Summit held in Abuja, disclosed that the theft was what led to the closure of the Trans Niger Pipeline for about a year.
In a record 45 days after commencing operation, Tantita succeeded in dipping crude theft and associated crimes substantially, which attracted top government functionaries including the GMD of NNPCL, Engr. Melee Kyari and Chief of Defence, Gen. Irabor amongst others, to visit the location of a massive illegal pipeline connections where crude were being stolen in a boundary community between Delta and Bayelsa state.
Following on the progress of the pipeline protection, Bloomberg in its report recently noted that the FG recent intervention via the engagement of Tantita Security Services has by more than half corrected the imbalance in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota, occasioned by activities of crude smuggling.
On piracy, security experts have suggested that the unending attacks in the GOG is a political business that sponsored by high network personalities, leveraging on the huge unemployment rate of trained youths.
They experts recommend that for effective anti-piracy policing, the regional governments should deploy performance based coast guard to complement the efforts of the respective national navies, and establish central control and monitoring rooms.
Reacting to the recent attack on Danish-owned Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker ship about 140 miles west of Congo’s Port Pointe-Noire, Secretary-General of the Merchant Seafarers Association of Nigeria, Captain Alfred Oniye said piracy in the GOG is an organised crime, which can only be successfully fought and brought to the barest minimum through focused official determination and the right political will.
Recall that the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) had warned that the Gulf of Guinea is still dangerous despite the recent positive piracy reduction achieved by both local and foreign naval operations.