One of the statutory responsibilities of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is to keep Nigeria’s waters, especially the country’s exclusive economic zones, safe and secure. This is necessary to enable the country to participate fully in, and derive optimal benefits from the maritime arm of international trade, having lost substantially over the years due to insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, of which it accounts for more than 70 per cent of trade.
The strategy that NIMASA is putting in place, which is bound to change the security narrative in not just Nigeria’s maritime environment, but also in the entire Gulf of Guinea, is anchored on the Deep Blue Project – a project like no other in the country’s fight against piracy and other criminal activities.
The project, which was originally slated for launch on May 21, but has to be shifted to June, is a collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Transport, represented by NIMASA, and the Ministry of Defence, represented by the security agencies – Navy, Army, Airforce, Police and the Department of State Services.
When operational, the project will be coordinated from what is known as the C4i Centre, a high tech satellite system that would enable aerial and water survey, monitoring, enforcement and regulation of activities that are being carried out in the Nigerian maritime environment, real time.
The Deep Blue Project comprises several components of highly sophisticated equipment, among which are three Special Mission Helicopters (SMHs). These helicopters are equipped to carry out different kinds of operations, including search and rescue, as well as special operations that may be needed as situations require to guarantee round-the-clock security and safety of Nigeria’s waterways through enforcement of the relevant laws. The SMHs capability in the areas of security surveillance, as well as search and rescue, would make it possible for Nigeria to meet International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) requirement for maritime administration.
Before now, the IMO, indeed, the international community, had considered the Gulf of Guinea the most unsafe maritime environment in the world, with Nigeria bearing the brunt of that wrongful designation with the highest charges on shippings to the country. This was more so because the country was seen as not doing enough and not having the requirements for maritime administration, despite the efforts of past administrations in this regard. That is going to be a thing of the past from now on, with the Deep Blue Project in place.
Among other components, the Project will involve the use of 17 Fast Interceptor Boats (FIBs), each weighing 6.5 tons and moving at 50 knots. These are high-speed patrol boats that will aid the search and rescue operations of the Deep Blue Project. Added in the mix of security components are 16 armoured vehicles (AVs). These vehicles, like the FIBs, are equipped to communicate different kinds of information and intelligence to the C4i Centre.
The C4i Centre is the brain and heart of the Deep Blue Project. The Centre is equipped with a satellite system that allows it to see, monitor and record all operational activities that take place in Nigeria’s maritime environment, thereby enabling it to send order to the Deep Blue Project assets with all the security agencies involved, all working in a collaborative and complimentary manner.
The Maritime Special Unit (MSU) comprises over 340 personnel drawn from the security agencies involved in the Deep Blue Project. They are very well trained and equipped to execute any kind of special operations which may arise from time to time. The personnel represent the human element that is very crucial in the entire maritime security architecture, and will be expected to play the interdictory role of tackling piracy in the country’s waters while also protecting seafarers.
There is currently in place a steering committee that ensures 100 per cent implementation of all the activities in accordance to the terms of the Deep Blue Project contract. The steering committee comprises the heads of the security agencies involved in the project, including NIMASA, and is chaired by the Honourable Minister of Defence, with the Honourable Minister of Transportation as co-chair. The main contractor for the Deep Blue Project is Homeland Security International entity, which has HLSI Systems and Technology as its Nigerian contact.
It is worth emphasizing that the success of the Deep Blue Project hinges on synergy and collaboration of all the security agencies involved in the Project, including NIMASA. This is something that was lacking in previous attempts at providing adequate security in the country’s waters. It has become a model for military and civilian working relations. This is perhaps the key success factor of the Deep Blue project.
We had a situation in which NIMASA, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), oil companies and private operators had similar infrastructure and platforms to achieve what should have been a common objective, but worked independently of one another. This, in some cases, led to situations in which one agency did not know what another was doing, thus creating a major loophole that pirates and other criminals exploited. The use of technology was also not as extensive as what the Deep Blue Project entails.
The legal teeth for the project is provided by the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act of 2019, which makes it possible for maritime crimes like piracy and kidnapping to be prosecuted in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Dr. Jamoh can be reached on Twitter: @JamohBashir. #Thevoiceofmaritime.