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Interview: Gulf of Guinea security requires coordinated strategic approach, says American maritime security expert

Maritime security expert, Capt. Phillip Heyl
An American maritime security expert, Capt.Phillip Heyl, at a recent maritime conference
held as part of the Nigerian Navy Diamond Anniversary celebration, called for
stronger stakeholders’ collaboration as key strategy for getting solutions to the security challenges
in the Gulf of Guinea.

Hely bemoaned the increase in pirate attacks within the region
lately, and noted that the dwindling oil prices had made the attackers progress
from stealing oil to kidnapping for ransom, a situation he said could pose
bigger challenges to shipping if not handled promptly.
He, therefore, advised that the Nigeria should take seriously, the
implementation of her laws against piracy, and ensure immediate prosecution of
those arrested for perpetrating such acts.
He lauded efforts by the Nigerian Navy in handling the situation,
but prescribed the need to build their capacity, training of more people to
handle the day-to-day demands of the security task.
Excerpts:
What explains the increase in
pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, and what can be done to check the trend
immediately?
Piracy
has gone up now because criminals need to make money. Right now, the criminals
in West Africa, not just Nigeria, are struggling just like everybody else is
struggling because of low prices in oil, and has changed a lot of the dynamics.

 The concern is that they may stop the
traditional stealing of oil or gasoline, refined gas, and start taking hostages,
kidnap for ransom (KFR). Using the Somali model, that is going to increase
violence, it is going to increase the cost of doing business.

It
is going to make a lot of shippers nervous and it could have a very negative
economic impact. But back to the issue, this is criminality. If they are not
doing this, they will do something else. But the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian
Police and the other countries around Nigeria need to work together, better, to
stand up to this.

The need for collaboration within the
Gulf of Guinea?
It
is simple as this; trans-national problems require trans-national solutions. That
is the bottom line. You can’t do it alone, and just as everyone says. Right
now, the reason all of these countries are here is because they have seen that they
worked.

From your view point, does Nigeria
have enough facility, advance technology to match these criminality?
Absolutely.
It is not an issue of capability; it is an issue of capacity. So, the
difference in capability. With reference to the tanker case, the Nigerian Navy
intervened with the special boat service and killed the pirate and released the
hostages, because they have the capability.

Now,
do they have the capacity to do that every day? No. They need to build the
capacity, they need more trained people. It is not an issue of technology, it
is an issue of building the personnel, training the personnel.

What about infrastructure like
platforms to support such operations?
Absolutely.
It is resources across the board response that are needed. One of the governors
volunteered to provide two vessels, and that is what needs to happen. You want to
know the solution? The solution is the stakeholders. By stakeholders, I mean in
Nigeria and outside Nigeria, need to start contributing to the law enforcement
entities here in Nigeria.

The
stakeholders in the industry, other countries stakeholders, who have business
here in Nigeria. A lot of people always say what about the International Oil
Companies? What about the state-owned NNPC? They have an interest too.

So,
I think it is a question of developing a coordinated strategic approach that
you can measure how money is being spent and what results are, and you see the
difference. If you can keep transparency of the money and you can measure it
well enough to relate it to whether or not the investment is worth it.

 What
message is there for foreign counterparts if a country is delaying in passing
anti-piracy laws?
Let
me just first say that Nigeria has all the laws it needs. Nigeria is signatory
to the Law of the Sea, Piracy Convention. Now, whether or not the domestic laws
exist to enforce that signatory or not, I don’t know about that.  More likely, the problem here is implementing
the law you already have.

This
is a judicial, legal process that needs to happen. It is not happening. So, the
Navy can go out, detain someone, they can bring someone in and then it has to
go to court. But who is going to take him to court? So, now, it is back about
capacity. Does the court system have capacity to try?

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