Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) deployed satellite surveillance equipment to counter piracy in Nigerian waters. The deployment of the satellite equipment was sequel to the formal unveiling of the agency satellite surveillance centre. It stated that it is now in a position to respond to any distress call on Nigerian waters and beyond. It also said that the upgrading of its Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) in Lagos, Bonny and Oron and the radar installation in Escravos Bonny and Takwa Bay in Lagos will complement the satellite facility and further boost our domain awareness response capability when fully operational. The facility can equally be used to see beyond the territorial waters of Nigeria, identify ship positions in real time which can greatly enhance search and rescue, plot search and rescue patterns, detect vessels that switch off their automatic identification system (AIS) as well as interrogate the satellite image for information.
It however noted that it presently does not have enough security officers assigned to its maritime guard command to be able to efficiently complement the findings of the surveillance system. Director General of NIMASA, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi who stated this in Lagos at a press conference organised by the agency said that the new 24 hours satellite surveillance equipment has the capability to detect boats, ships and objects of predefined cross-section floating on water. Akpobolokemi who was represented by the agency’s Executive Director of Maritime Safety and Shipping Development, Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba stated that the centre which was launched in June 2014 was instrumental to the rescue of a Ghanaian flagged vessel that was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Ghana. Also speaking, NIMASA’s Director of Shipping Development, Captain Waredi Eniosuoh said that about six vessels have also been arrested for operating illegally on Nigerian waters through the use of the surveillance system. He noted that the satellite surveillance is capable of detecting vessels that entered Nigerian waters even with falsified International Maritime Organisation (IMO) number and other ships of interest.
He however expressed regret that presently, NIMASA has ran out of security personnel in its Maritime Guard Command to follow up on the day-to-day implementation of the printout of the new system. Said he: “I can tell you that as we speak the satellite prints out on a daily basis every vessel that does not meet the requirements. I do not want to name the vessels that are out there now that have been arrested, but I can tell you we have five and another one has just joined the list. “I am so scared now with the result. The reason I am scared with the result is because we have a limited number of military personnel with us and the rate we are going since this satellite system started. Very soon, we will run out of the number of military personnel assigned to us, we are about to apply for more.” He added:,”We have successfully reversed the trend as we now have complete patrol of our maritime domain with considerable capability to respond to marine emergencies within a reasonable time frame.” In addition to this, it says it has embarked on another Verification Inspection Exercise (VIE) of port facilities to enforce compliance with the International Ships and Ports Facility (ISPS) Code. According to the agency, 22 port facilities in Nigeria are now compliant with the ISPS Code as confirmed by the US Coast Guard. The agency however expressed hope that this figure will rise when the report of the ISPS Code Compliance team which visited the country last April is released.