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.


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?