Falcon Eye Project and maritime security
In June, President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned a state-of-the-art Falcon Eye Maritime Intelligence Facility at the Naval Headquarters in Abuja. The commissioning of the facility, a brainchild of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), is part of efforts to boost Nigeria’s overall maritime security architecture, in accordance with the National Security Strategy (NSS).
Represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the president decried the security and economic threats posed by piracy, sea robbery and other criminalities perpetrated in the nation’s over 800km coastal area.
“It is estimated that Nigeria loses about $26.3 billion annually to various forms of criminality particularly piracy and sea robbery. On account of the escalated risks in some of our maritime areas insurance premiums for commercial vessels coming to these areas have been raised sharply, making maritime trade an unattractive proposition.
“This underscores the need to enhance our maritime security architecture. Consequently, a critical contribution of the Falcon Eye System will be the provision of actionable intelligence for curbing maritime threats to our economy,” he said.
National Security Adviser (NSA) Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd.) said at the event that the Falcon Eye surveillance facility project was necessitated by the many security challenges, such as kidnapping of oil workers, sea robbery/piracy, incessant problems of crude oil theft, illegal bunkering, hostage-taking, maritime terrorism, facing the maritime sector.
“The Falcon Eye System will serve as a force multiplier for our naval platforms tasked to effectively secure our maritime environment from external aggression. It will also enable the Nigerian Navy to effectively combat any maritime crimes that could disrupt the conduct of maritime trade,” Monguno said.
Indeed, sea robbery in Nigeria’s territorial waters and piracy in adjoining seas in the Gulf of Guinea constitute a menace to international shipping. These include the hijack of merchant oil tankers and fishing vessels, the kidnap of mariners as well as increased piracy along major shipping routes and Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs). These incidents have resulted in a negative global assessment of the Nigerian Maritime Environment.
Nigerian waters and the adjoining Gulf of Guinea have been designated as a ‘High Risk Area’ and one of the most troubled global waterways. In 2019, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that between 2015 and 2017, the total economic cost of piracy, kidnapping and armed robbery at sea incurred by all stakeholders involved in countering these activities (including Nigeria) was US$2.3 billion. On its part, the ICC International Maritime Bureau reported that actual and attempted piracy and armed robberies against ships on Africa’s west coast significantly increased from 47 in 2011 to 64 in 2019.
In a recent report, The Economist also referred to piracy on the West African coast as “primarily a Nigerian problem”, saying criminals and maritime terrorists function mostly “out of the labyrinthine waterways in the Niger Delta”.
In December 2019, four armed robberies occurred in Nigeria’s waters. In January 2020, three seafarers were kidnapped and four security personnel killed on a dredger off Forcados Terminal in Nigeria. In May 2020, 10 persons hijacked the fishing vessel Hailufeng 11, which led to a rescue operation carried out by the Nigerian Navy 140 nautical miles south of the Lagos Fairway Buoy. The 18 crew members were rescued, while the 10 suspects were arrested.
It is in response to these challenges, which are classified as national security threats under the National Security Strategy, that greater collaboration was sought between the Nigerian Navy and other maritime security agencies to embark on heightened maritime operations, including the employment of maritime domain awareness capabilities around identified hotspots.
This is where the endeavour of ONSA in facilitating the set up and operationalisation of Falcon Eye Maritime Intelligence Facility becomes imperative.
Apart from the provision of facilities, ONSA is also spearheading strong inter-agency collaboration, which is required in maritime security. Working closely with the Nigerian Navy are other maritime security stakeholders such as the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), SSS, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigeria Police Force. NSA Monguno said: “It is for this reason (of inter-agency collaboration) that the project (Falcon Eye) has a maritime stakeholders’ cell here in the Main Control Centre to accommodate representatives of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigerian Ports Authority and Marine Police, amongst others.”
And along with collaboration and provision of facilities, a much-needed legal and institutional framework for prosecuting offenders has also been taken seriously by the Federal Government.
On the 24th of June 2019, the president assented to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences (POMO) Bill. By the POMO Act, Nigeria became the first country in the West and Central African sub-regions to promulgate a stand-alone law against piracy. The Act aims to “prevent and suppress piracy, armed robbery and any other unlawful act against a ship, aircraft and any other maritime craft, including fixed and floating platforms”. It also domesticates, as required, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982 and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA), 1988.
Between last year and earlier this year, the first prosecution and convictions of piracy under the new POMO anti-piracy Act were secured in the earlier mentioned case of the 10 suspects arrested by the Nigerian Navy.
Ultimately, Nigeria will have to tackle critical socioeconomic and environmental factors which drive criminalities in the Nigerian Marine Environment. These include: the high rate of unemployment among the youths in the Niger Delta; and the absence of robust coastal economic activities along the littoral states to engage most of the unemployed youths.
However, efforts which culminated in the establishment of the Falcon Eye Maritime Intelligence Facility are crucial steps in the right direction towards improved and sustained maritime security.
Zakari writes from Abuja
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Report By: PRNigeria.com