By Ray Ugochukwu
As President Muhammadu Buhari gets set to flag-off the country’s Deep Blue Project initiative tomorrow in Lagos, the Maritime Journalists Association of Nigeria (MAJAN), has counseled the promoters to ensure its sustainability afterwards.
This, they advised should be by way of ensuring that the initiative is enshrined in the books as an official policy devoid of the manipulations of civil servants at their whims and caprices.
MAJAN made its position known in a communiqué it issued yesterday in Lagos after a Special Congress of the body wholly devoted to the Deep Blue Project initiative. The project is being midwifed by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The Deep Blue Project is aimed at protecting the country’s coastal waters, especially with a view to reducing acts of piracy to the barest minimum to enable the most populous nation in the world harness the full potentials of its maritime resources.
To ensure that the several millions of dollars spent on the project do not amount to a waste, the association is advising on the sustainability by way of instituting it as an official policy shielded from manipulations.
The communiqué also advised the Federal Government, as a matter of urgency, to commence the disbursement of the much awaited Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) to enable critical stakeholders participate in the emerging Blue Economy.
It reasoned that this has become necessary in view of the capital-intensive nature of the maritime sector where the acquisition of critical infrastructures for its exploitation is on the high side cost-wise.
While commending NIMASA for the wonderful initiative, MAJAN appealed that the attendant Blue Economy emerging from the flag-off of the Deep Blue Project, should be driven by an assemblage of experts and technocrats for a successful outing.
It explained that stakeholders should be carried along in the execution of the project in order to get their buy-in into the initiative because, according to MAJAN, it is still the same people that would drive the process as a private sector thing.
The advocacy group enumerated the benefits of a Blue Economy to include increase in foreign exchange earnings, job creation, generation of funds for budget financing, making Nigeria a maritime hub, among several others.
The assets acquisition and installation phase of the Deep Blue Project moved towards completion recently with the delivery of one of the two Special Mission Aircraft for the project. The Cessna CJ3 Citation jet for maritime surveillance was received in Lagos ahead of the scheduled launch of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure – commonly called the Deep Blue Project on May 21.
The arrival of the aircraft at the Nigerian Air Force Base, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, marked a great moment in Nigeria’s maritime security history.
Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, had this to say:
“This is a historical moment in the course of our national development, especially as we move towards diversification of our economy with maritime playing a strategic role“.
“The arrival of the Special Mission Aircraft happened amid a positively changing maritime security narrative in Nigeria, and we have no doubt that with this additional capacity to control our maritime domain, things would get even better.”
Nigeria has in recent times witnessed a significant drop in attacks in its waters. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the global focal point in the fight against maritime crimes and malpractices, recorded only two incidents in Nigerian waters between January and March this year in its latest quarterly report of piracy and armed robbery against ships. This was against 11 attacks within the same period last year, 14 in 2019, and 22 incidents in 2018.
The Nigerian maritime domain and the Gulf of Guinea had seen spikes in piracy and armed robbery at sea. But since the deployment of assets under the Deep Blue Project began about two years ago, there have been drops in such security breaches. IMB reported a decline in piracy attacks in Nigeria in the third quarter of 2019, saying in its report, “Nigeria has reduced Q3 piracy attacks from 41 in 2018 to 29 in 2019.” This represented nearly 30 per cent year-on-year reduction.
The Deep Blue Project aims to prevent illegal activities in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), enforce maritime regulations, enhance safety of lives at sea, and prevent illegal activities in the inland waterways. In February, the Federal Government added the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA), off the coast of Lagos, to the areas under the protection of the Deep Blue Project.
The project is designed with three categories of platforms to tackle maritime security issues on land, sea, and air. The land assets comprise the Command, Control, Communication, Computer, and Intelligence Centre (C4i) for intelligence gathering and data collection; 16 armoured vehicles for coastal patrol; and about 600 specially trained troops for interdiction, known as Maritime Security Unit. On air, there are two Special Mission Aircraft for surveillance of the EEZ, one of which was received May 12, with the second expected to arrive soon; three Special Mission Helicopters for search and rescue; and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The sea assets consist of two Special Mission Vessels and 17 Fast Interceptor Boats.