Secure anchorage and future of investments in Nigeria
As the controversy over Secure Anchorage Area rages, stakeholders counsel that status quo ante be maintained until an alternative arrangement could be made. Sulaimon Olanrewaju reports.
The raging war on the issue of Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) may be totally uncalled for as investigation shows that the platforms or vessels being used in the said SAA neither belongs to the government nor the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). It was further unveiled, that the designated place for SAA operation, which is 10 nautical miles outwards of the Fairway Buoy, is clearly an area, totally outside the NPA jurisdictional purview, which arguably begins from the Fairway Buoy, inwards.
Specifically, it was also observed that the controversy might have developed more or less as a result of nomenclature misunderstanding, particularly the use of the term ‘Anchorage” instead of ‘Zone’, as the area should have been better designated a ‘Zone of Vessel Refuge’, rather than a Secure ‘Anchorage’ Area (SAA).
Recall that the NPA had recently notified the Navy of its decision to dismantle the SAA which was operated by a private company, OMSL on behalf of the Navy.
A revered stakeholder said he could not understand why an issue which was generally agreed to, by both the NIMASA and the Nigerian Ports Authority, to enable the nation evolve another layer, a more credible layer of ‘security’, so as to guarantee formidable protection for foreign vessels, at no cost to the government or any of its agencies, has suddenly become a controversial storm in a tea cup.
Speaking further, the stakeholder who pleaded anonymity, recalled that there was a time around 2007 when piracy in the country peaked, crude production fell, and the IOCs were on the verge of pulling out of the country.
“The idea of a Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) was a strategic decision by the IOCs, the Nigerian Navy and other stakeholders, which included the NPA and NIMASA, to tackle the menace and provide a lifeline for Nigeria. “We all hailed them. It was clearly an idea out of the box!
“The IOCs could not fund the Nigerian Navy. The IOCs were sufficiently threatened to consider fleeing. The Navy did not have adequate platforms or logistics to tackle the dangerous criminals. Kidnapping was soaring. Demand for ransom was getting out of hand. The nation’s image was in tatters. Relevant stakeholders were begging the IOCs not to depart Nigeria. And then, suddenly, out of the blue, the IOCs came up with the idea of an SAA. The only problem was where to find the private investors, who would be willing or adventurous enough to procure relevant vessels costing about $3m each, to hand them over to the Nigerian Navy, without any insurance cover.
“But, one company called OMS or something like that opted to take the risk. It was a stupid risk. To invest about US $3million in each vessel and leave it to operate uninsured. It looked stupid. But I guess it is now paying off. And that explains why Nigerians, in our characteristic greedy nature, want to either kill it now, or put sand into it”, he explained further.
“Individually, we hailed them and the idea of secure anchorage area. But I think it was the NIMASA that first hailed the idea as a corporate breakthrough”, our source noted further, explaining that “NIMASA also endorsed the emergence of the OMS–Navy accord, via an advert. He highlighted that the SAA would be a ‘spherically shaped‘ off-shore Lagos 5nm, located with a centre-point at Longitude 06° 17’ 30’’; and Latitude 003° 12’ 00”, located about 10 nautical miles southwest, before entering Nigeria, through the Fairway Buoy. The agency also, in the advert, emphatically acknowledged that the SAA exists to “serve as an additional security service for provision of dedicated 24/7 watch, to vessels seeking extra protection while at anchorage offshore Lagos”.
Asked what he considered the NPA’s position on the issue, he said the agency lacked direct jurisdiction over the matter, because the area in question was totally an offshore, 10nm, outward Fairway Buoy, hence, out of the NPA’s purview, since its jurisdiction begins from after the Fairway Buoy.
When reminded that the NPA sometimes ago acquired three vessels which it handed over to the Nigerian Navy, and thus, justifies the Authority’s interest in the SAA, the stakeholder said the three NPA vessels had never operated in the SAA zones.
Ironically, further investigation confirmed too, that even the NPA on Friday, April 4, 2014 similarly endorsed the evolution of SAA, in an advert it placed in the Guardian newspaper, designating certain areas as: Lagos ship to ship coordinates, NPA designated Lagos anchorage, secure anchorage area and no anchorage area.
Speaking in the same vein, an industry watcher, Samuel Egbewole, described the present controversy as stemming from pure ignorance of the facts involved.
“I was equally interested in the issue when they said one OMS was busy fetching money from the Nigerian waters using government platforms. But, on a closer look, I realized it was a lie. The platforms belonged to the OMS, not the Navy, NPA or NIMASA or the government. And it is not in any way costing the government anything.
“Whenever I go to the airport, I enjoy the privilege of either parking my car by the road side where any idiot can break into it and steal my valuable items or go to a Secure Parking Area (SPA) where I pay a little stipend and comfortably leave my car, until I come back for it. The OMS arrangement is strictly like that.”
Furthermore, he was quick to point out that but for the creation of the OMS-Navy accord, the insurance premium on vessels coming to Nigeria by now would have shot through the roof.
“Nigeria was already being treated like a war zone. Insurance was already roof bound. So, the creation of the accord finally became a solution towards breaking the notion of seeing the country as ‘a high-risk area.
“But you know our people, if your neighbour invests in something, and the venture turns sour, it is an investment, until it begins to yield. Once it begins to yield, it becomes ‘corruption’. Sometimes, it’s like the black man’s soul harbours envy”, Egbewole explained further, wondering why anyone would think of dismantling a working arrangement when no realistic alternative is in sight.
He described the controversy as mere issues of nomenclature, lauding the entire idea as an ingenious, pragmatic idea, evolved by the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the Nigerian Navy, created to meet the challenges of a logistic gap, designed to ensure a 24/7 security presence, for the protection of foreign vessels within Nigerian waters, 365 days a year, at a time when rising waves of piracy had culminated in serious drop in crude production and its attendant bad image.
Speaking in the same vein, the President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Increase Uche, cautioned against a sudden dismantling of the SAA, stressing that abolishing the security of the anchorage area without a superior alternative would lead to a resurgence of maritime crimes, attract higher insurance cost of vessels coming into Lagos, and further tarnish the good image of Nigeria.
He also warned that dismantling the SAA may result in a new era of spiralling inflation, or subsequent diversion of cargoes to ports of neighbouring countries, whenever government suspends the current land borders closure policy.
Uche said, “We have seen what the industry had passed through and we do not want to go back to the old order. We do not want our cargoes to be exposed to criminals. So, we are appealing to the Nigerian Ports Authority to rescind the decision to dismantle the SAA.
However, when the OMS General Manager, Business Development and Government Relations, Commodore Chuma Adogu (rted) was met, he initially declined to talk to the media, saying he would rather not talk, than be erroneously perceived as sounding antagonistic or offensive to the authorities.
But when pressed to speak on the allegation that OMS was using NPA’s three vessels to make money for itself, he said, “That is not true. It’s misinformation. I am sorry to use that word because NPA provided vessels for the Nigerian Navy, three in all, according to the papers, but none of those vessels is in the secure anchorage area.
“All the vessels that are used in the secure anchorage are owned by the OMS, donated to the Navy. Like I told you, the relationship we started in 2007 made us to acquire vessels that are domiciled with the Navy, painted in Navy colours; an outsider may not know the difference, but we know, the Navy knows. It is not true that we are using government asset to make money and the money is being directed to private pocket. It is very untrue. It is because people do not know this arrangement.
“Our relationship is for security services, which NPA does not have a mandate for. Who has mandate for security? Nigerian Navy, not even NIMASA because NIMASA still refers to Nigerian Navy; and the Nigerian Navy deemed it fit to collaborate with us, because they have approval from the government to do that. It is a collaboration that didn’t just start at the secure anchorage area.
“Before now, any of these three things happens: the vessels stay outside our territorial waters, where pirates can’t reach them 200 miles away, and wait for allocation of berth; others who don’t want to stay that far, come in with mercenaries and thereby breech our security. Even that option can be costly too.
“Others who don’t want to get involved about that simply divert to neighbouring ports, which amounts to a huge loss to the economy of Nigeria. The idea of a secure anchorage area stopped all the three via payment of a small fee; and they are happy about it.
“Maybe the argument is in the name, perhaps, if we remove the ‘anchorage’ there, maybe the NPA will stop laying claims to it. May be, that’s where the misunderstanding is coming from,” he explained.