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Noticias de interés

Maritime security provision off Nigeria remains confused

Fecha de la noticias: 09/06/2015 • Publicada: 09/06/2015 

Taken from: Tanker Shipping & Trade April/May 2015

The confused relationship among the law enforcement agencies and the Nigerian Navy, nuanced as it is with internal power struggles, is making the protection of vessels and crew fraught with uncertainty. That confusion is undoubtedly being exploited by some private maritime security companies (PMSC). They face a further squeeze on income as a result of the collapse of oil prices, which has reduced the need for slow steaming in the Indian Ocean and with it the need for armed guards.

Three law enforcement entities are responsible for maritime security. The Nigerian Maritime Police has jurisdiction up to the fairway buoy and in internal waters. The Nigerian Navy is responsible for policing and protecting the waters beyond that and out to the 200 mile limit of the Economic Zone. The Nigerian Maritime Safety Agency (NIMASA) is responsible for the implementation of the ISPS Code, but also provides physical security to a number of offshore oil terminals. All have been quick to spot commercial opportunity in the protection of vessels trading in Nigerian waters. This is of particular relevance to tankers calling at the facilities around the Forcados, Calabar and Bonny Rivers, where the myriad creeks provide perfect cover for the gang or gangs that have been attacking ships off Qua Ibon in recent months. The outgoing president’s power base was in the Niger Delta regions, and whether his going will lead to a further deterioration in the security situation and a greater threat to commercial shipping remains to be seen.

Some European PMSCs reacted to the fall off of Somali piracy by focusing on West Africa, and many have tried to offer their services in Nigeria with mixed success. Their main model is to use local naval or police on board as an armed guard presence, often with an unarmed PMSC liaison officer who provides a degree of co-ordination by acting as a security consultant to the master. The same model is followed in places like Togo and Benin. Amendments to Guardcon have been suggested to allow for that with liability underwriters seemingly happy to take on the risks involved. Some in the industry were concerned about the quality of those guards being put on board. There remains no way to confirm the training or weapon-handling standards, with some companies making the mistake of using their websites to promise that they were responsible for training the Nigerian personnel on board. That was a mistake because the presumption of control has contributed in part to the fierce backlash from NIMASA, and led to the detention of PMSC personnel and delays to vessels.

NIMASA went further in February: it issued an edict that seemed to suggest that it would also arrest Nigerian Naval personnel found on board providing armed protection. For shipowners there is the very real risk that having any security personnel on board of whatever nationality could give rise to a risk of action being taken against the vessel. Even if that action has no judicial backing it is a risk that a tanker operator can ill afford, particularly if the voyage is chartered to a capricious jurisdiction such as India.

The situation is further confused by PMSCs who appear to have an MOU issued by local commanders giving permission to embark forces on third-party ships. But the MOU system is in fact a capacity building exercise by the Nigerian Navy. Strict compliance with the MOU requires the PMSC to buy a patrol craft that it then effectively donates to the Navy. It must be capable of carrying a weapons system and be of a standard that it passes a Naval inspection. It becomes part of the Naval fleet. In other words, the “third-party ship” referred to in the MOU must be one owned by the PMSC. The patrol boat is then manned with Naval Personnel, sometimes augmented by the PMSCs’ own staff. If the MOU system is followed correctly, then it keeps all Naval personnel off commercial shipping. This is not generally understood by owners or their insurers.

Given the risk to the crew in having Naval personnel on board, it is probably much safer to use patrol boats. But there is still a risk that if an owner attempts to berth at or near a terminal guarded by a NIMASA craft, then any dedicated patrol boat will be forced to stand off a mile or so, which at night, in a high-risk area, may offer no protection at all.

It was anticipated that about six such MOUs were to be issued whereas the actual number is said to be more than forty. It was inevitable that NIMASA would see its own interests threatened and that action would be taken. It is important that vessel owners are aware of this. TST

*Stephen Askins is a partner at London headquartered law firm Tatham Macinnes. This is the first in a series of three articles Mr Askins will be authoring on different facts of maritime security

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