BY PHILIP NWOSU
Former Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, on Friday said that naval operatives within the command have made significant inroad into the fight against piracy and crude oil theft.
Admiral Daji spoke while handing over to a new Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Barabutemegha Gbassa explaining that this evident in over 250 raids and clearance operations conducted to neutralise pirate camps and criminal hideouts in coastal communities and settlements across the commands area of responsibility.
He said that no fewer that 10 suspected pirates who were arrested by the force are now facing justice at the Federal High Court, Lagos, charged under the Suppression of Piracy Act.
Daji said that upon assumption of the command in 2019, his team formulated strategies that would guide the maritime base resources and assets as well as enhance safety of the nation’s sea means of communication.
“This is considered germane toward promoting shipping and other legitimate uses of the sea and waterways within the Command’s maritime area of responsibilities.
“Accordingly, we engaged and sort the cooperation of relevant stakeholders in the maritime sectors and other security agencies.
“This was with a view to synergising our efforts at enhancing security of the sea lanes, the anchorages, and channels within the command’s maritime area of responsibility,” he said.
The admiral said that the strategy paid off and gave impetus to the command’s operational successes.
Daji said that his team ensured the operational availability of capital ships and boats as well as helicopters for patrols, interjections and credible deterrent presence in the command’s maritime domain.
“We enforced the planned maintenance system in concert with the field support group: the West and Logistics Commands of the Nigerian Navy.
“The strategy encompasses the motivation of technical personnel, local sourcing of space and training amongst other initiatives.
“Consequently, ships like Nigeria Navy Ship (NNS) Prosperity and NNS Ekun which were hitherto alongside the Jetty were revived and had since joined the league of operational vessels,” he said.
The admiral said that they developed measures and initiatives to deny pirates and sea robbers the freedom of action to operate with impunity to attack ships at sea and in the back waters.
“Furthermore, it is on record that of the three piracy attacks on ships within the commands area of responsibility within the last two years, two were unsuccessful,” he said.
Daji said that 33 ships were arrested for various infringements including those engaged in illegal oil bunkering, crude oil theft, smuggling and illegal fishing amongst others.
“They have been handed over to the relevant prosecution agencies.
“The arrests were made possible through greater integration of our maritime domain awareness facilities, actionable intelligence provided by ours and other security sister agencies and sustained presence of naval platforms at sea.
“Nigeria Navy ships and boats were at sea for over 15 hours during the period,” he said.
The admiral said that the Atlas Cove and Takwa Bay which used to be havens for pipeline vandals and criminal syndicates were sanitised.
“This resulted to significantly fewer disruptions to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) bunkering operations within that axis.
“Clearance operations resulted in seizures of jerricans worth about N120million and recovery of petroleum products worth about N630 million.
“Furthermore, several acts of vandalism which can cost the nation at least N1.6billion were foiled by the combined efforts of Operation AWATSE, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Department of State Services (DSS) and other operating agencies,” he said.
Daji said that the naval headquarters had approved the establishment of Forward Operation Base at Takwa Bay which would be inaugurated soon to sustain the gains of the clearance operations.
He said that another key area of the command’s achievement was the welfare of personnel including various projects that were executed to boost personnel morale and well-being of their families.
“The command witnessed unprecedented construction of new residential accommodations while the existing ones were renovated.
“Medical and educational facilities also received significant attention, some of the projects completed were the provision of laboratory equipment and the renovation of the four Nigerian Navy Welfare hostels.
“The headquarters complex of the Western Naval Command, Doctors Quarters at Reference Hospital, Ojo, accommodation blocks in Mobile Road, Barracks, Ajegunle and Ipaja and Navy Barracks, Apapa were all given face lift,” Daji said.
The admiral said that he operated a reward and punishment system to encourage hardwork and discourage indiscipline accordingly.
“Personnel who distinguished themselves were celebrated in public functions and no less than 42 personnel across ranks both ratings and officers were recipients of the FOC letters.
“Similarly, a total of 57 personnel found wanting received letters of displeasure and were encouraged to mend their ways.
“This measures contributed to enhancing not only personnel morale but also discipline which in turn translated to improved productivity,” he said.
Daji said that this modest achievements would not have been possible without the support of his officers, ratings and civilian staff who worked tirelessly and selflessly.
Daji said that the COVID-19 pandemic and #EndSARS protest which turned violent in Lagos and other extraneous factors conspired to slow the operational tempo attained by the command in 2019.
“Diligent prosecution of suspects arrested for various crimes and even keeping them securely while adhering to COVID-19 protocols was challenging.
“However, through the support of sister services and other security agencies, we were able to surmount the challenges without breaching the arrested suspects’ rights to liberty.
He appreciated the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Leo Irabor and Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, for providing the necessary logistics support, leadership and guidance throughout his tenure as FOC Western Naval Command.
Admiral Gbassa in his address promised to continue in the same vain to sustain the developments and improve upon the achievements of his predecessor-in-office in the areas of operations, welfare and infrastructure.
Gbassa urged the officers and men of the command to work together in unity with him to sustain the vision of the Chief of Naval Staff.