Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that with the recent acquisition and commissioning of four naval warships by the Nigerian Navy, Nigeria’s rising sea power will help ward off pirates from its waters
On February 4, when gunmen boarded a Greek-owned tanker anchored near a Nigerian port, killing one crew member and taking three others hostage, everyone was alarmed. According to reports, the ship was attacked while it was waiting to load at Qua Iboe, an oil terminal in south-eastern Nigeria.
Now, the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa is regarded as a new centre of piracy and Nigeria coastal waters has become a critical part of the area.
Indeed, the International Maritime Bureau recorded 33 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the area between January and September last year, according to the AFP news agency, making it a dreaded area for sailors.
Yes, 70 per cent of Nigeria’s economic growth lies on the waterways, but the maritime domain is often fraught with the challenges of maritime illegalities ranging from piracy, sea robbery, smuggling, illegal fishing to crude oil theft and others.
To tackle this, the Nigerian Navy has had to patrol the endless miles of waterways despite some major challenges like shortage of offshore patrol vessels (OPV), budget constraints, inadequate local ship building capacity for construction of naval vessels and inadequate surveillance.
Asides protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity, the NN also contributes its quota at the regional level, by patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, which is a vast expanse of water stretching almost 6,000km from Senegal to Angola.
But today, some of these challenges are gradually becoming a thing of the past especially when it comes to fleet acquisition, surveillance and ship building capacity.
This is because for the first time since the regime of President Shehu Shagari, the Nigerian Navy (NN) fleet received a major boost with four warships at the same time. Shagari’s regime had commissioned three.
This is not to say that since inception in 1956, the NN has not witnessed tremendous development by past administrations aimed at making it a formidable naval force despite daunting operational challenges.
Although these challenges have always been in existence, it is today heightened by global changes, especially with regards to security, which is characterised by diverse threats such as terrorism, transnational organised crimes, trafficking and illicit economic activities enhanced by the interconnectedness of the maritime domain.
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