Armed Guards off Nigeria in Hot Water?

Published Jun 23, 2014 11:06 AM by The Maritime Executive

The latest security advisory for Nigeria issued by the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) effectively renders the use of armed guards commercially placed on merchant vessels illegal and is highly likely to have major repercussions for the ship owner and the charterer should they be caught with unauthorized armed police or marine police on board says leading maritime security company GoAGT.

According to BIMCO there have been a number of ‘blue on blue’ incidents in the last six months and the industry as a whole is concerned about the safety of crew transiting the region. The warning comes exactly a month after a merchant vessel was boarded near Port Harcourt, which had its cargo stolen whilst the crew were held hostage, despite a Nigerian Naval vessel being in the vicinity.

Nick Davis, CEO of GoAGT, said: "BIMCO have taken a strong, proactive stance on this issue. The incident a month ago was entirely preventable with the use of an unarmed advisor and a good radar lookout. The crew were very lucky not to have suffered injury, had they been able to react quicker and retreated to the citadel the situation would have diffused quickly. The primary concern should be the safety of the personnel, theft in the Gulf of Guinea is unfortunately something ship owners and managers have to deal with, with an advisor on board vessels can avoid a hostage situation during a boarding."

He went on to say: "Merchant vessels approaching Nigeria from within the Gulf of Guinea must understand that the Nigerian Navy are the only authorized body to offer protection via escort vessels only, and not with armed guards on client vessels. The option for Joint Task Force or Police protection is only available within the riverine deltas and not on the high seas. There is a clear and present danger to the safety of the crew with the only effective solution being to employ an advisor who can safely get the crew to the citadel, which must be well-equipped with communications equipment."

"Currently the use of armed guards in the region falls into a legal grey area. Ship owners and managers being offered so-called 'authorized' armed protection within the Gulf of Guinea by Private Maritime Security Companies are well advised to seek advice from BIMCO, their flag state and the local Nigerian embassy or consulate for the latest advice and protocol prior to parting with money for a service that could have severe operational interruption to normal trading."

Nick Davis said: "There is no satisfactory way for managers and owners to perform due diligence on locally sourced guards. It has been reported in the past that incidents of product theft or kidnap have been targeted against vessels carrying guards. Due to the high risk of operating in this area, ship owners and managers must do all that is in their power to ensure the crew remain safe with thorough training, enhanced watch keeping and a well prepared plan of action in case of an incident."