… As Nigeria, France, China, Portugal, others participate in Exercise Eku Kugbe
It was a massive exercise. The Nigerian Navy recently deployed 12 combat ships in the Gulf of Guinea as part of its efforts at improving its capacity to protect the country’s maritime sector.
Code-named Exercise Eku Kugbe, the initiative, which involved navies from other countries, was organised to mark the Nigerian Navy’s 62nd anniversary.
Apart from the 12 Nigerian war vessels, six others from France, China, Portugal, Ghana, Cameroun and Togo participated in the exercise.
The Gulf of Guinea is one of the richest oil and gas provinces in the world. The place holds about 4.5 per cent of the world’s oil reserves. Besides the Middle East, analysts believe that the region has the largest concentration of oil reserves in a single basin. It is not only rich in oil but has about 3 per cent of untapped world’s proven gas reserves.
The only significant gas export terminal is the Bonny Island LNG project. There are numerous pipeline projects under consideration to deliver gas up to the Mediterranean region and beyond to capture the lucrative European market.
Observers believe that European and United States interest in the Gulf of Guinea explained the participation of some European powers, China and other African countries in the Exercise Eku Kugbe, which translates to Exercise Cooperation.
Leading the manoeuvre was NNS Okpabana, a Hamilton class high-endurance cutter, which formerly served with the US Coast Guard as USCGC Gallatin (WHEC-721) and was commissioned into the Nigerian Navy in 2014. It operated alongside 17 other warships, including the Chinese guided-missile frigate Yancheng.
Within hours the entire vessels had crossed the Commodore’s pool and headed deep into the blue waters to engage in the exercise, which was closely monitored and accessed by the Nigerian Navy Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP), Rear Admiral Isaac Francis.
The vessels drew their orders from the Officer in Tactical Command (OTC), who determined when every formation outlined in the exercise manual was to be carried out.
All the vessels followed directives issued from the NNS Okpabana by the OTC, Commodore Dickson Olisemonogor.
Daily Sun learnt that the participating countries took the exercise seriously because of the enormous interest they all have in the Gulf of Guinea. Other African participants were active because of the security situation in the region.
Nigeria loses about $15.2 million (400 thousand barrel) of crude oil per day at sea, amounting to $456m per month. The country’s natural resources including fishes, shrimps and prawns within the 200 nautical miles stretching from Seme to Calabar are daily being exploited illegally by business concerns that repackage them for sale in the country.
In 2015, the Nigerian Navy was in the eye of the storm as the country sought to block revenue leakages arising from continued threat of terrorism, organised-transnational crimes and other illicit economic activities.
The leakage points included oil theft, illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, piracy, and other sea crimes in Nigerian waters. With the slide in the price of crude oil in the international market, the focus on the navy became imperative as crude oil sales dominate Nigeria’s revenue.
Crude oil for instance, accounts for about 95 per cent of the country’s export and 80 per cent of her consolidated government revenue. Moreover, maritime trade accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), which is over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s national income.
To ensure that the loopholes are plugged, the Nigerian Navy along with other navies simulated the conduct of unopposed boarding – a situation where they find a fishing trawler doing the wrong things at sea – and opposed boarding, when the occupants of the vessel are armed and are ready to engage the Navy in an exchange of gunfire.
The elements of the Special Boat Services (SBS) on board the vessel are lowered in a boat to carry out the task in a manner that ensures that casualties are not recorded on both sides.
Apart from testing the ability of the vessels and their crew to interrogate vessels at sea, the weapon system of the participating ships were also tested, with the French vessel, FNS Commandant Birot, releasing some shots from its huge guns.
The sound of the guns, which sent signals to the pirates within the area to end their illegal business, also came as a morale booster to other vessels and their crew.
Some of the personnel who spoke to Daily Sun on condition of anonymity said that the presence of vessels scared pirates away and ensured that the country’s maritime sector was protected.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, while addressing the International Maritime Conference decried the activities of pirates in the country’s waters.
Said he: “Our concerns have remained buoyed by our experiences time and again. The vast expanse of the ocean world has continued to be abused and unwholesomely exploited.
“Its very essence has been mindlessly debased and degraded by multifaceted threats of evolving nature. Within our region, the Gulf of Guinea particularly, most nations’ maritime security drivers have been marked with increasing complexity in recent years.
“This unsavoury state of affairs has ominously ended up in sharp increases in threat-levels and deepening of conditions inimical to security.
“Their migratory nature invariably unites these countries into subjugation and at the same time alienates them by the threats’ ranging impact on different national intensities.”
He, however, said that the Nigerian Navy has never slept amid threats from pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea. He said it would be incorrect to say that the scourge had not been accorded any response.
“This distinguished audience is fully abreast, at least through the many reviews in forums like this with the joint actions of nation states to counter these ills,” he said.
He informed that in line with its constitutional mandate, the Nigerian Navy, in addition to its routine operational activities, engages in a number of measures to drastically stem the tide of insecurity in the nation’s water.
According to him, one of the measures the Navy was taking to stem illegal activities in the Gulf was Exercise Eku Kugbe. Others, he said, include the anti-piracy operation such as Operation Tsare Teku and the introduction of a Choke Point Control Regime to breach the communication of maritime resource thieves and other miscreants in the creeks of the Niger Delta.
Admiral Ibas explained that all initiatives that had been sustained and strengthened had remained highly successful. He said the Nigerian Navy was in synergy with other stakeholders to maintain effective deterrence and appropriate operational posture.
“We have pursued this by generating adequate maritime leverage, domain awareness, maintaining the required reach and sustainability, and conducting seamless and effective networked operations across multiple missions in the surface, sub-surface, air, space and cyber-space domains.
“Appropriately, the transformation has been anchored on the provision of extensive upgrade to the fleet. With an unprecedented support of the Federal Government, the Nigeria Navy in line with its programme of general preparedness has inducted a good number of platforms, which includes the injection of over 350 riverine crafts, procurement of six long-endurance platforms, with three more under construction. That is in addition to logistic and hydrographic vessels whose construction has also commenced.
“A commendable stride has also been made in the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) project to enhance surveillance and interdiction efforts.
“The twin but complimentary systems of the US government-assisted MDA project of Regional Maritime Awareness Capability facility and the Falcon Eye system have continued to be expanded in view of their highly encouraging outputs.
“The course of this past two years seriously deterred other forms of illegalities in our domain. But for those that dared to brace the odds, about 96 vessels were arrested for various maritime illegalities, especially on charges of illegal dealing in petroleum products, crude oil theft, piracy and sea robbery, infringement on provisions of Cabotage laws and immigration statutes.
“So far, 13 convictions have been secured, while many others are being prosecuted,” he said.