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Maritime lawyer seeks legal framework to combat pirate attacks, armed robbery at sea

Mike Igbokwe, SAN

Maritime Lawyer, Mike Igbokwe, SAN, wants
a legal framework constituted to deal decisively with the criminal acts of pirate
attacks on vessels and armed robbery at sea, with a view to reducing such
attacks to the barest.

Igbokwe
spoke on the backdrop of recent attacks on vessels within the Gulf of Guinea in
the last one month, and pronouncement by a Filipino seafarers recruitment organization
that nationals of Philippines coming to the region will be entitled to increased
salaries and even have the right to reject sailing to the areas.

Igbokwe,
who spoke in an interview in Lagos, said the existing laws dealing with the
criminal acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea should be updated to entrench
stiffer punishment against any perpetrator arrested.

He
emphasized the importance of enforcing the law and adequately monitoring the
enforcement to strengthen weak areas. 

“I
urge the transportation minister to ensure the updating of our laws, and the
one on piracy and armed robbery at sea should be his top priority.

“This
should be with a view to ensuring there is a legal framework to be used for
preventing and dealing with armed robbery at sea and piracy within our waters.

“Secondly,
enforce the law, and then, monitor the enforcement of the law, because sometimes,
we have good laws but enforcement is a different ball game.

 “Also, when you
enforce, you monitor the enforcement so that if there are weaknesses or
loopholes you can block them and find a way of improving on the law,” he said.

According
to the maritime lawyer, prosecution of offenders is very important to serve as
a deterrent and establish that this is not business as usual.

He
said that categorizing the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria’s Niger Delta region and
other inland waterways as ‘high risk areas’ would push shipping freight or the
hires higher, with economic implications.

“The
implication is that, increased freight will cause imported inflation in the
Nigerian economy.

“The
reason for going high is that, the owner of the ship who employed these crew
members will end up paying them more in terms of wages and will likewise put
the extra cost on the freight or hire to be paid by the cargo owner.

“So,
what will happen is that the cost for shipping cargo to Nigerian waters will go
up. Insurance too will go up and this will eventually be transferred to the
goods or raw material that he has imported and add it to production cost and
then, to the ultimate consumer.

“You
will then be faced with imported inflation; which will affect prices of goods
imported due to high freight cost. Then the purchasing value of the Naira will
also get reduced and the economy will suffer,” Igbokwe said.

He supported the action of the
Filipinos as a quick initiative to warn and protect the interest of their
citizens, who are predominantly seafarers travelling across various countries.

He said that was how quick a legal
framework should be put in place to check the crime of attacks at sea where the
attackers come to kill, steal or even take crew hostage. 
“You
know what normally happens, when pirates strike, is either they kill or they
maim the crew in order to steal or even either steal their money, personal
belongings or even steal the cargo, or steal the vessel itself.

“What
the Filipinos have done is in the interest of their citizens, which I think is
a good policy to protect their citizens who are working on board ships that
sail from country to country, to make sure that, they recognize that when they
are plying those areas they are plying high risk areas.”

The
maritime lawyer also noted that it was not unlikely that the seafarers had
started rejected jobs in the areas categorized as ‘high risk’, and may only be
encouraged with higher incentives and wages.

He
therefore urged the Federal Government to stand up to the challenge by making
it impossible for pirates to operate within the Nigerian waters, by updating
the laws to support the present reality on ground.

He
said, “The world has moved on. There should be stiffer punishment and
provisions that will cover all the new crimes that are coming up in the waters.
“It
will ensure that if you get any of them arrested, you will be in a position to
get them prosecuted, and when you prosecute them you will deter others from
doing the same thing.”

Igbokwe
said he had some time in 1988 worked in collaboration with the IMO and NIMASA in
attempt to upgrade the laws; looking at the International Maritime Conventions
that have to do with maritime security, piracy and suppression of unlawful Acts
against ships and shipping, but never got a result from it till date.

He
lamented the inability of the Navy to prosecute pirates even when they get them
arrested because there is no law empowering them to do so. Rather, they hand
over such suspects to the Police or the EFCC for investigation.

This
situation, he said, leaves the Navy with no choice but to release such
suspects, who go back to their business again.

You
know, Navy can help in investigation, but it cannot prosecute. So, at the end
of the day, they see that they are not the kind of crime they can actually prosecute
and sustain, so they release them and they are back to their business.

He
wants the Navy to be equipped with modern platforms, ammunition to patrol the
water to make sure they keep it safe, even if it means surcharging ships and ship-owners
that ply those routes.

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