….to clamp down on illegal vessels
Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
In its bid to monitor vessels operating in its Area of Responsibility (AOR), the Nigerian Navy, Central Naval Command (CNC) has commenced a sea- exercise code-named Exercise Akere to enforce the use of Automatic Identification System (AIS) by vessels operating in the maritime domain.
The Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), CNC, Rear Admiral Saidu Suleiman Garba who flagged off the Exercise which is Ijaw word for ‘Arrest’ and to last from September 23 to 25 noted that the Command’s AOR covers one of the major coastal regions of the country with bulk of the nation’s economic assets including oil exploration infrastructure.
According to him it is the responsibility of the Command “to protect these assets and ensure that the nation’s maritime economic activities are not disrupted.”
Garba who explained that there are internationally accepted rules guiding vessels operating in the maritime environment to ensure that they are positively identified listed flying visible flags and switching on the AIS as important.
He said the act of switching off the AIS which not only impedes the identification of the affected vessel but also interferes with its tracking has made the Command to take action.
“The act of deliberately switching off AIS for illegal activities has led to economic losses and sabotage to the nation’s economic growth and prosperity. Consequently, with the approval of the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, the Fleet would fine-tune its process of enforcing the use of AIS and reduce infractions to the lowest possible level. It is therefore the directive of the CNS to use this enforcement processes to help minimise economic sabotage in the nation’s maritime environment through enhanced patrol and operations.
“It is however worrisome that notwithstanding the efforts made by the Nigerian Navy and other security agencies at tackling the numerous security challenges prevalent in Nigeria, palpable threats still persist particularly in Nigeria’s maritime domain with threats to attack on critical maritime infrastructure, both ashore and offshore. Presently, Operations CALM WATERS II and SWIFT RESPONSE are still on-going with other security agencies within the Command’s maritime boundary to rid the country of numerous security challenges being encountered. Despite the increased presence of the Navy in the country’s maritime domain which had led to numerous arrests of culprits, the violation of switching off AIS has persisted and is considered a leading cause of the increase in maritime crimes such as illegal fishing, poaching, sea pirates/robbery, kidnapping, arms smuggling and trafficking, illegal oil bunkering and anti-economic activities.”
Garba disclosed that the Command is “deploying 8 ships and a Helicopter to carry out intensive patrols of the waterways and sea lanes in order to ensure strict compliance to the use of AIS by vessels in our maritime environment and prevent other maritime crimes for sustainable economic activities to thrive.”
He declared that the “ships will conduct Vessels’ Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) on all suspected vessels as well as arrest defaulters.”