Two years ago, we connected virtually with a dark, sad and persistent cloud of blue crimes enveloping the region, but today the cloud is opening and we are seeing the sun gradually shining through - Dr Bashir Jamoh
Undoubtedly, concerted efforts by countries in the Gulf of Guinea to curb piracy in the region have started yielding positive results.
This was recently acknowledged by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which said piracy attacks at the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) had substantially declined.
According to the Bureau, Nigeria recorded no kidnapping incidents in 2021 with the total number of incidents in its waters dropping more than 80 per cent, compared to 2020.
The decline, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), said could also be attributed to the 195 million dollars Deep Blue project, initiated by the Federal Ministry of Transportation through NIMASA.
Consequently, Nigeria was removed from the global piracy list.
The challenge before the country now is how to sustain this new status, and also ensure a piracy free Gulf of Guinea.
No less a personality than the Secretary General of International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Mr Kitack Lim, challenged the Gulf of Guinea nations to maintain the momentum in order to sustain the decline of piracy.
According to him, maintaining the momentum of gains made so far is the main challenge for the regional navies.
"To do so, you must address the root causes of piracy including the plight of coastal communities, in order to reach sustainable solutions to the issue of piracy," he said.
Indeed, sustaining the decline of piracy preoccupied the minds of participants at the Gulf of Guinea security conference on May 10; a forum which sought a coordinated output for an international response to sea threats within the Gulf of Guinea.
One of the outcomes of the conference was that regional naval cooperation in tackling piracy in the Gulf of Guinea through shared awareness had become imperative.
But beyond wishes, stakeholders believe that there should be sustained political will, legal framework, and updated technology and innovation to sustain the decline of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
Director General of NIMASA, Dr Bashir Jamoh, is confident that the decline of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG), can be sustained, pledging to provide logistics and formulate appropriate policies.
"Two years ago, we connected virtually with a dark, sad and persistent cloud of blue crimes enveloping the region, but today the cloud is opening and we are seeing the sun gradually shining through.
"No one can easily forget the frequent reports of attacks on ships and kidnapping of seafarers in the GoG in 2019 and 2020 when they reached their peak," he said.
Jamoh noted that the attacks had negative effects on seaborne trade in the region.
He added that while it was important to recognise the success so far made, the future must remain the focus.
Nigeria's Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Awwal Gambo, said the challenges experienced by member-countries should not deter their collaborative efforts toward reinforcing initiatives to advance and coordinate maritime security activities.
"Much has been achieved but there is still room for greater collaboration in the areas of information sharing, increased presence of naval assets and strengthened legal frameworks among the GoG nations as well as international partners," he said.
Gambo's views were corroborated by Mrs Eunice Ezeoke, president, Women's International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA), who noted that collaboration by states that bordered the Gulf of Guinea gave rise to the decline of piracy in the region.
She said the states formed a united force, and that international organisations like the United States Coast Guards and UK navy as well as the Deep Blue project of NIMASA, also gave credence to their anti-piracy initiatives.
She noted that all these efforts helped in the decline of piracy, adding that collaboration should be sustained for piracy to be completely eradicated.
Ezeoke pointed out that Lim was right in saying that Nigeria faced the challenge of sustaining its status after being delisted from the piracy list.
However, she said this could be achieved by addressing the issues that contributed to the piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea.
According to Ezeoke, in addressing the issues, the youth in coastal communities must be empowered through meaningful employments.
"Due to oil spill, environmental degredation, the means of livelihood of the local fishermen have been compromised.
"The fish are dying, the youth have nothing to do as their major occupation is fishing. The empowerment will enable them to have other sources of livelihood like tourism; they will need watercraft for such," she said.
Also, Rev. Jonathan Nicole, a shipper, said piracy in the Gulf of Guinea would be better controlled in collaboration with other countries who allowed parts of their naval vessels to come into the region.
According to Nicole, the level of commitment and collaboration by the countries should be sustained until piracy is completely eradicated.
"Just recently, I read about our seafarers not having something to do, of course they will not have something to do because we do not have our own vessels.
"And the constant harassment of the shipping lines, make the employers of seafarers have a choice to say they don't want Nigerian seafarers on their vessels; we cannot dictate to them who to employ.
"And the seafarers are saying if they don't have anything to do, they will go back to piracy, which means that the origin of piracy is from seafarers who have been idle," he said.
Nicole said seafarers had been trained to work with ships on seas around the world, and they knew the terrain of all the countries they travelled to, and so there was no choice than to engage them.
He said government had a role to play through NIMASA to ensure that these seafarers were employed.
In all, to sustain Nigeria's new found status as almost piracy free nation, and invariably that of the entire Gulf of Guinea region, will require more than rhetorics.
Experts insist that the region's governments must muster the political will, have timely and accurate flow of information, between regional authorities and piracy reporting centres to maritime assets such as the Deep Blue Project, both regional and international.
Whether or not these can be done to sustain the decline of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, time will tell.