BY PHILIP NWOSU
The waters of Brass and Calabar came alive recently as the Nigerian Navy moved 14 war ships to the Bight of Benin for the 2015 Chief of Naval Staff sea inspection.
The sea inspection Daily Sun learnt marks the culmination of the activities of the Nigerian Navy for the year 2015 and was designed to work up the ships and personnel in line with the force’s doctrine of operations.
Code named Exercise Treasure Guard, the exercise it was gathered, was put together to access the capability and fighting efficiency of the force’s ships at sea.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ette Ibas led the Exercise, alongside 16 Admirals, many other naval personnel and over 20 Midshipmen, who were at the primary stage of their naval career and needed to understand the importance of the sea to the Navy at sea.
A senior naval officer told Daily Sun that the gathering was unprecedented, explaining that no Chief of Naval Staff had ever displayed the willingness to fight crude oil theft as Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, pointing to the pulling of 14 ship, two helicopters and one Nigerian Air Force ATR Aircraft as a visible part of such willingness.
Treasure Guard, it was gathered was put together, following the promulgation of the Chief of Naval Staff’s Strategic Directives 2015-1 which placed emphasis on maintaining zero tolerance for illegalities within the country’s maritime environment.
It was gathered that the sea exercise was part of the renewed vigour of the force to fight sea piracy and oil theft which had taken so much from the country and left the rest of Nigerians impoverished.
Apart from the Boko Haram insurgency in the northern part of the country, stakeholders in the maritime and oil sectors said the next major challenge facing Nigeria currently is the theft of crude in the Niger-Delta region.
Nigeria it was gathered produces about two million barrels of crude oil per day going by her approved quota from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). But while there are no facts available, to the number of barrels lost to thieves , it was gathered that over 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day is speculated as being lost to oil thieves.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had earlier in the year, revealed that at an average price of $97.59 per barrel, Nigeria lost $3.9 billion (N858 billion) between January 2013 to April 2015 to pipeline vandals and crude oil thieves.
The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) quoting reports submitted by international oil companies (IOCs), said the country lost about 160 million barrels of crude oil valued at $13.7 billion to thieves from 2009 to 2012.
Crude Oil theft and militancy according to the Nigerian Navy, constitutes a major inhibitor to the socioeconomic development of the Niger-delta particularly and Nigeria in general. As a result of this, the responsibility towards the area has been largely neglected by administrations, organizations and companies.
Another worrisome trend is the increasing percentages of school aged children who are denied of formal education and aspiration by the various militant groups who see them as potential recruits for their illegal trade thus initiating them into a criminal lifestyle characterized by violence and restiveness, teenage parenthood and anti-societal tendencies.
However, with the coming of Exercise Treasure Guard, the Nigerian Navy said in practical terms, that thieves would no longer be allowed to mess with the country’s commonwealth.
Exercise Treasure Guard, it was gathered provided the force the platform to assess its operational capability with a view to identifying gaps and taking necessary measures “to fill such gaps for enhanced operational readiness.”
The aim of the exercise was to intensify the ongoing naval operations in the Niger Delta region with emphasis on Bonny and Excravos axis, an area notorious for crude oil theft.
Bearing in mind the overview of the strategic elements of Nigeria’s maritime environment, which encapsulates over 5,700 oil wells, 112 flow stations, 16 gas plants, 126 production platforms, six floating production storage offloading (FPSO) platforms and 13 crude oil terminals, the navy stressed its readiness to protect them from criminals. While adding that its personnel would not relent in cleaning up the waterways and protecting Nigeria’s oil facilities at sea.
Admiral Ibas said the essence of the exercise was to show presence in the areas where the crude oil theft is high.
Indeed, results have started trickling in, with recent announcement by Vice Admiral Ibas that the Navy arrested 20 vessels alleged to be involved in various maritime crimes within the country’s territorial waters.
The Naval Chief said that the resolve of the force to tackle crude oil theft has put thieves in the area on the defensive, adding that the force would be deploying 5 capital ships to sea daily to carry out routine patrol, while 65 boat of various sizes patrol the creeks in search of vandals and crude oil thieves.
The comments by the Naval Chief came just as the force, particularly the Eastern Naval Command showcased three vessel arrested by its personnel earlier in the month for breaching the country’s rule on vessels operating within its territorial waters.
The vessels show cased include; MV Purity, MT Alantic 1 and MT Solution which the naval chief inspected alongside the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin.
He said that the Navy would consolidate on human capital development
Admiral Ibas said the Nigerian Navy patrols includes anti crude oil theft, anti illegal bunkering, and kidnapping and anti hostage taking, adding that “the Navy addresses these patrols to interdicting, arresting, and recovering a considerable number of vessels, equipment as well as subversives persons.”
While speaking on fleet recapitalization efforts of the force, the Naval Chief said the force has adopted double pronged strategy towards acquiring ships to carry out her operations, revealing that, “on one hand, ships are being acquired from friendly countries and on the other hand the Nigerian Navy is complementing foreign acquisition with domestic construction of ships.
He said that based on the approach, four ships including the Nigerian Navy first Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV)the NNS Centenary were recently commissioned into service, while five new ships and two Tug boats are being repaired by the force.
He also revealed that 70 boats are being expected from Sri-Lanka to join the fleet of the force in the first quarter of 2016.
Chief of Naval Staff said Nigeria’s wealth, peace and survival depends on the sea, and that with the deployment of 14 vessels to this area were the wealth of the nation lies is an indication that the Navy is ready to protect it.