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Despite SAA foreign liners still using private security

Amid renewed controversy surrounding security contract in the ports Secured Anchorage Area, SAA, there are indications that foreign cargo vessels still go the extra mile in providing for separate and additional security arrangements.

The revelation is coming on the backdrop of the continued brickbat between the Federal Ministry of Transportation, FMOT, and management of Ocean Marine Securities Limited, OMSL, who is laying claim to the existence of a controversial contract for the provision of security for the SAA; even as the FMOT insist it has not granted the firm any contract to man the SAA.

The SAA which is believed to be exclusively within the control and jurisdiction of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, has since last year become subject of dispute between the authority and OMSL, while the Nigerian Navy said to have signed the contract have remained mute, but said to be giving OMSL tactical and unobtrusive backing to disrespect and disobey both the FMOT and its agency, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA.

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Speaking on the issue, President of Nigerian Institute of Shipping, NIS, Dr. Anthony Omonigho confirmed alleged extra security engagements by agents of foreign ships.

He said, “Yes, it is not a secret, many of these foreign merchant ships are known to hire extra security, piracy as you know have worsened gradually in Nigerian in the past twelve years.

“Imagine when NPA and the Navy and the private contractor, OMSL keep arguing, which ship owner will relax. NPA has total control over SAA, but you also know that it is the Navy that provide security, what is required if for the presidency to direct the Navy and NPA to put their house in order. It is disgraceful that the federal government is allowing sentiments to rub off negatively on government business and image.

Also speaking, President of the alumni Association of Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron, AMANO, Engr. Austin Zurike while confirming the development said it is ill advice to relinquish maritime security architecture to a private firm.

“Foreign vessels till pay private security firms to give them additional security despite security provided at the SAA. Of course, the reason could be that the foreign vessel owners don’t have confidence and trust in the capability of SAA under the present arrangement, because even if the SAA is been run by civilian government agencies, there will always be loopholes. That is the challenge, there are reasons to worry that there are many ways to bypass our system and institutional services.

Give money somewhere and they guys there will turn the other way and things will happen. So those going for own additional security arrangements want to be very sure.  We are only good at talking and talking, and not doing the right things.

“If we had a functional Coast Guard, we shouldn’t be giving ships security to private security agent in the first place. NPA revoked because it has the power to do so. My worry is for NPA, Navy and NIMASA to put their acts together and speak and act as one; there is too much conflict of interest.

“The SAA is too sensitive to be given to a private security firm. The private firm may be very effective and on top of the game, but that is an unwelcomed intrusion in highly sensitive national security. We have a primitive system with defective statutes, otherwise it shouldn’t even be NPA doing this thing, it should be a National Coast Guard, while the Navy concerns itself with the defence of our sovereignty, to ward off foreign aggression.

“As things stand, the bulk ends on NPA’s table because they are responsible for the port. My worry is that they are not equipped for such security and safety issue, they will have to synergize.”

Commenting, front line maritime stakeholder and industrialist, Prince Olayiwola Shittu said the present misunderstanding between Navy and NPA in unnecessary and unproductive, noting that genuine partnership ought to be the collective resolve of organs of government in the maritime industry.

“Number one, NPA and Navy should be working together as one; working together can sink areas of misunderstanding. If it’s about revenue for government, about image and implication, all of these can be also sorted out. The take home should be the level of confidence which collectively, they provide for cargo ships and crew and other stakeholders, what is happening is rather sad and petty.

“So, simply put, our failure hinges on absence of professionalism, absence of real business and professional approach to unlocking critical opportunities, lack of efficient maritime domain structure and infrastructure, and lack of necessary inputs. Things done the same way over and over again can only produce same result.”

Commenting on the allegation, NPA General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Engr. Adams Jatto  said the authority will not be dragged into extraneous issues regarding security issues or the closure of the SAA, noting its sole responsibility in maritime security is complementary.

He said, “NPA has not changed its position regarding the closure of the so-called SAA. It’s not a question of lack of confidence on NPA security arrangement as securing our waterways is the primary responsibility of the Navy and NIMASA complemented by NPA and Marine Police.”

The issue of unethical official behaviour, rent seeking tactics, corruption and illegal charges appear to have tainted effectiveness of security services, aside also largely undermining the national image.

Last year, the National Assembly Report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Delta Ports discovered that, the sum of $50,000 is paid to the Nigerian Navy before escorting vessels from the high sea to ports of destination in the region.

The committee chaired by Hon. Buba Yusuf Yakub in its recommendation, charged the federal government to investigate the allegation and stem its continuation, describing it as embarrassing and one of the factors pushing up the cost of shipping in Nigeria.

It will be recalled that the NPA in March 2014 donated three security patrol boats to the Navy to boost its maritime security task. The boats acquired at the cost of USD20m and named NNS DORINA, NNS TORIE and NNS EGEDE.

There are concerns that the Navy may have failed to deploy these boats, while presenting lack of capacity and platforms, as reasons to engage in contractual deal with private security firms, with attractive fee regime, to which the Navy is fingered as having interest.

Then Managing Director of NPA, Mallam Habib Abdullahi said, “This presentation of patrol boats to the Nigerian Navy is a demonstration of our determination to collaborate and partner with other relevant government agencies to secure the nations territorial waters both on and offshore.

“With their unique operational features and capacities, the patrol boats will augment the fleets of the Nigerian Navy in their search and rescue operations within the nation’s waterfront.

“The amount of money expended to procure the boats from the meagre resources of the authority makes the authority believe that the Navy would make good use of the patrol boats for the purposes they are meant for,” Abdullahi said.

Responding, then Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Usman Jibrin, represented by then Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Samuel Alade, said:

“What NPA gives to us is commendable especially at a time when we are being faced with security challenges.

“The service will put it in good use and depending on the Chief of Naval Staff; it will be deployed to Lagos to fight anti-piracy war.”

Efforts to get reaction from the Navy on the matter failed as inquiry addressed to the Naval Director of Information, Commodore Dahun Suleiman, was not responded to until the time of filing this report.

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