In October 2012, the Navy seized a foreign-flagged ship carrying arms and ammunition on the nation’s territorial waters. At that time, insecurity in the maritime domain was rising. The insecurity prompted a series of intense talk among relevant government agencies such as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy (NA) on how to protect ships and the environment.
The OMSL argued that the insecurity had compelled foreign vessels seeking to berth in Lagos to stay outside Nigerian territorial waters up to a distance of 200 nautical miles where they believe pirates would not reach them or prefer to come into the country with foreign mercenaries for their safety. By so doing, Nigeria was losing businesses and huge revenue to neighbouring countries such as Benin, Togo and Ghana as foreign vessels found comfort in ports in those areas. Consequently, the OMSL was given the mandate to provide security for incoming ships through the SAA.
An impeccable said: “It is also on record that the intervention of OMSL not only reduced the heightened insecurity but wiped it out, creating a safe haven for foreign and local vessels to berth and operate. The intervention of OMSL was, however, not automatic. It followed due process.
The source revealed: “In the first place, its pedigree as a result of successes recorded while being engaged by reputable firms caused the Nigerian Navy to introduce the company to NPA and NIMASA. The OMSL was subsequently invited to series of strategic meetings with stakeholders on how to provide security on the harbour approaches, and a deal was officially struck.
“The company went out of its way to provide the needed services by undertaking significant investment in the acquisition of assets and logistics backup required by the Navy to offer all-round patrol services.”
On November 7, 2019, the battle over the control of the SAA took a different dimension when a motion was raised at the Senate following an alarming letter by the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) on alleged illegal security activities perpetrated by OMSL at the SAA, Lagos port.
A newspaper reported that following the allegation by the NPA, “the Senate then detailed a 44-man committee, including three members from the secretariats, joint committee, comprising Navy, Marine Transport and Finance to investigate the matter. Their terms of reference were to determine the legality of the operations, its revenue, security implications and the legality of the entire chain of the operation.
“It also mandated the joint committee to investigate the lingering quarrel among the agencies, with a view to resolving the security impasse it will bring to the nation as well as the legality of OMSL and its operations.
“The Senate, considering the importance of the matter allowed four weeks for the conclusion of investigation and reports, as well as approved three independent chairmen, to forestall manipulations of any kind. The chairmen were Senators George Sekibo, Mohammed Danjuma Goje and Senator Solomon AdeolaOlamilekan.”
During the hearing, the chairman of OMSL, Capt. Hosa Okunbo, gave an insight into the history of SAA and its modus operandi.
He said: “OMSL started in 2007 at the height of militancy where this country was producing less than 300,000 barrels a day. The late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, who was the first Chairman of OMSL, and who had been a one- time Chief of Staff, was the one who came up with this idea.
“He had referred to a company in London, that provides platforms to the Navy to protect the fisheries industry in the North Sea, and also referred to Indian Ocean where private companies would procure platforms to the Indian Navy to protect the oil and gas industry. At this time, it was just an intervention and we wrote to the Navy in 2007.
“We started this business with just three vessels because it was pertinent to open risk tracks, which had shut down with production of 70,000 barrels per day. There were bullet holes on Shell EA Field; Addax was attacked on a daily basis, and Shell was going to close the whole of Eastern production because of hoodlums in Bonny. There were numerous challenges and we came in. We intervened, in national interest.
“I want to see one Nigerian businessman, who would want to procure a vessel of over three, four million dollars, sometimes up to six million dollars and hand it over to the Navy completely, without insurance, to defend this country. Nobody was ready. We took the risk, and the 70,000 barrels were restored.
“We stood in the gap between the Navy to carry out its statutory responsibilities, and the oil companies, who were ready to pay for our services. If we were to pay the Navy, then prices would have been crazy. We took that responsibility, sat with the oil companies, and everything was benchmarked in line with industry practices.
“Before OMSL strategy, Navy men were put on vessels; they were put on tug boats and houseboats and when pirates came, they were killed. They killed a lot of Navy men, and I am surprised why the Navy is not talking. Your men were killed in this country until we came on board to find the solution. Many operations were then restored; Shell EA production of 200,000 barrels per day was restored; Addax too ran to us, Bonny too restored. That was how we started borrowing money to buy vessels. And that is how we were able to build this capacity we are talking about today.
“At the advent of amnesty, all the conditions the Navy presented to us, we met in 2007, leaving none out. If you remember, there was a time all shipping activities were relocated to the West African coasts. If you want to clear your goods, you go to Lome, Cotonou and Accra. There was high piracy rate in Lagos.
“We were invited by the Navy in line with our success in the past and because of our capacity, to come and help; that was how we came. They asked us to provide this platform for the Navy. It is just like you buying a bullion van for the police to protect the cash that banks carry. That’s the simple thing we are talking about.
“We provided the platform and maintained it at our own cost; but what happened? We wanted to stop in the first year because we were losing so much money. We went to Norway, London, Singapore, South Africa at our own cost to meet with ship owners to tell them, listen you are bringing mercenaries to our shores costing you $22,500 per day at $7,500 per mercenary, when our company can give an equivalent service at lesser cost, more of a stipend for their vessels.
They agreed that it was a win-win situation. That is how SAA started. And if we were to pay money to NPA or Navy, the cost probably will be higher because we did a proposal to Navy and they gave us the go-ahead with a caveat that as long as we don’t come back to the government for anything, and that was how we embarked on this business.
“At no time, having been operating this service for six years and procuring this equipment, did NPA call us for collaboration or to say you are making so much money here, let us rent your vessels, don’t charge any fees; we would have agreed. There was no discussion whatsoever. The only thing we saw were some stories on the pages of newspapers. And the most painful of everything was derogating my integrity and image. That is what is bothering me, not the business.
“I am not running this business because of money. I have served this country meritoriously with honesty, with my integrity intact. At the moment, I have 50 vessels with the Navy that could go to war for this country without recourse to OMSL. They don’t need to contact us before they go to war. That is the extent of our commitment to national development. Our records are there in Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); our records are there in IOCs and others.
“My grouse about this whole matter is my integrity that has been tampered with. NPA never called us for a meeting; NPA never contacted us to inform us we are terminated.
“And the Navy, it’s very obvious that you were aware that they wanted to dismantle SAA. Did you call us at any time to tell OMS that this is the plan of NPA? And we have an MoU with you on which we are operating. So, we will stand in the gap for you and this country and you treat us like nobody even with all these investments. The issue is not money, but my integrity. I have over 50 vessels with you and with all my investments with you then you throw me out of the window like that and derogate my character. That is unacceptable.”
The committee also took presentations from nine critical stakeholders, who stated their opinions or positions on the matter. The respondents included Federal Ministry of Transportation, Nigerian Ports Authority, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigerian Navy, Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) and Marine Section of the Nigerian Police.
The Navy, in its submission, noted that the SAA was legally constituted and operated within the law. The Navy said: “That the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) was established sequel to a series of stakeholders meetings led by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) that held at its headquarters in 2013.
“That the resolutions reached at the stakeholders meeting on the establishment of the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) were submitted to the management of the NPA and NIMASA for ratification.
“That upon the ratifications, NPA published a Marine notice on the establishment of a Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) on page 48 of The Guardian Newspaper of Friday 4th April 2014.
“That the Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA) also released a Marine Notice to mariners on the establishment of the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) in the Vanguard Newspaper of 27th November 2013.
“That the operation of the SAA entailed availability of platforms and provision of logistics for round-the-clock security of Lagos Anchorage.
“That the services of Private Maritime Logistics Supports Companies (PMLSC) had to be leveraged in order to effectively patrol the area and the Navy was faced with dearth of platforms.
“That approval was gotten from the Ministry of Defence with support of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) for the Navy to collaborate with PMLSC in providing dedicated patrol vessels.
“That the approval and acceptance of NPA and NIMASA enabled the Nigerian Navy to sign an MoU with OMSL for the operation of the SAA.
“That the OMSL is not operating illegally as it has an extant MoU with the Nigerian Navy. That OMSL was among 29 other PMLSCs that the Nigerian Navy collaborated with and eventually operated the SAA.
“That the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) has been operated by OMSL since 2013.
“That the stoppage of the SAA operated by OMSL without provision of an immediate alternative could lead to security lapse and return the Lagos Anchorage approach to security dangers as experienced in 2012 and 2013.”
The Managing Director of OMSL, Rear Admiral Aminu Oyone Ikioda (retd), submitted thus: “That the company has provided various forms of security services to international oil companies (IOCs) operating in the country particularly at the height of militant attacks in 2007.
“That the intervention of the company led to the continuous production of oil and aided in combating the effect of the drastic drop in national oil production and revenue accruing to both government and IOCs.
“That on the basis of the publication of the maritime notices, OMSL was encouraged to develop and submit a business plan to support the SAA operations which would guarantee a return on investment at no cost to the government.
“That upon receiving the approval of the Nigerian Navy, OMSL proceeded to undertake significant in the acquisition of assets and logistics backups required by the Nigerian Navy to offer dedicated 24/7/365 security patrol services demanded by some of the vessels that desire extra protection while waiting offshore Lagos for berth allocation of conducting STS transfer operations.
“That the services of the SAA facility was embraced and accepted by foreign vessels owners putting into consideration the safety, security and environmental protection that would be rendered to them, and were ready to pay for such.
“That there was no budgetary allocation by any government agency to provide the kind of unique service required to run the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA).”
In its presentation, the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) strongly recommended that the status quo be maintained in terms of the SAA arrangement.
It said: “The SAA facility had helped in increasing the presence of the Nigerian Navy at the sea and serves as a deterrence to pirates and other criminals in the sea
“That the SAA is operated by the Nigerian Navy that is saddled with the responsibility of protecting the Nigerian waterways and as such will not have any negative security implication.
“That SAA operation has drastically helped to reduce freight cost and other associated charges while also reducing the waiting time of vessels.”
According to the ship owners, any attempt to stop the SAA facility could render Nigerian ports unattractive to shippers because ships would be prone to attacks. They prayed that the arrangement should not be tampered with.
National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) lauded the establishment of the SAA, as its operation is at no cost to government but users of the platform.
Consider what the president of NAGAFF, Chief Increase Uche, said: “That the amount paid by ship/vessel owners for the services rendered at the SAA is so insignificant and cannot add any reasonable cost on cargos compared to cost of ransom, damage, destruction or loss of cargo through sea robbery, piracy and kidnapping.”
The Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), represented by its Managing Director, Hadiza Bala-Usman, remarked: “That the OMSL charged vessel owners $2,500 for the first day and $1, 500 for the subsequent days for its services without remitting same to government,” adding that the NPA was “proposing to put in place a structure that will secure the designated anchorage areas within Lagos.”
The Ministry of Transport noted in its presentation by the Minister of State, Sen. Gbemisola Ruqayyat Saraki, that it was written to on October 16, 2019, to intervene in respect of a Marine Notice published by NPA about the stoppage of the SAA without putting into consideration the huge investment made in the SAA and successes recorded so far. It told the committee that based on that letter and the one written by the NPA to the Navy to stop the SAA, it called for a meeting of stakeholders on December 9, 2019 “to deliberate holistically and take appropriate action, the outcome and resolution has not been made public.
It, however, noted: “That the ministry agrees with the fact that the Marine notice issued by NPA for the stoppage of SAA operation by OMSL was hasty as there was the need to interact with all stakeholders to review the situation before issuing such proclamation.”
The Marine Section of the Nigerian Police also pointed out at the hearing that its agency sent notices to mariners informing them of the availability of the SAA. Speaking through the Force Marine Officer, CSP Benjamin Ogungbure, the section noted that “OMSL through the SAA had provided security platform for ships berthing at offshore to the Lagos ports to utilise but the management of NPA are not fully in support of the operation and that the SAA is situated 10 nautical miles away from the Fairway Bouy, which is outside the jurisdiction of the NPA.”
In their report, which was endorsed by the general membership of the upper legislative chamber, the joint committee acknowledged that the operations of OMSL at SAA was legal and set up without bias to any establishment as it collaborated with the only entity saddled with the responsibility of providing security, the Navy. It noted that it was no one’s business the modalities the Navy choose to go about its security apparatuses. Again, given the fact that NPA also provides anchorage services, where it means that using SAA is optional and that the SAA anchorage is located far from the jurisdiction of the NPA, it is, therefore, surprising the aggressive attempt to dismantle a facility that has not broken any law or operated outside constituted authority.
The committee recommended that OMSL should be commended for its ‘genuine national interest in investing over four hundred million dollars ($400,000,000) into the security of the SAA in particular and the Nigerian waterways in general’. This is as the organisation provided needed platforms and logistics for the Navy to effectively perform patrol operations round the clock and protect vessels waiting to berth at Lagos ports.
It also stated that OMSL committed no fraud in its operations and as a result should be allowed to continue its operations at the SAA pending when a better and cost-effective alternative is put in place. It finally noted that OMSL is performing its duties at no cost to the government.
Despite the endorsement of OMSL by the Joint Senate Committee, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, insisted that the operation was illegal. In February 2020, Amaechi said the Secured Anchorage operation was suspended because “it was criminal and illegal to create anchorage for purpose of providing security, which ordinarily should be the responsibility of the government. He stated that it was his personal decision, and not Bala Usman’s NPA, which brought the knowledge of the existence of the facility to him.
Investigation revealed that those opposed the SAA want to give the same responsibility to a foreign firm. The company is proposed to take over the responsibilities is run by Israelis. Further investigation however disclosed that the company, HLSI, incorporated under the laws of Seychelle with a local subsidiary functioning from Abuja, Nigeria, may not do the job better than OMSL.
Checks revealed that though the SAA facility issue was only raised in 2019 before the Senate, a new contract had already been signed in July 2017, and this fact was not revealed to the 44-member Joint Committee. The investigation further “revealed that on July 27, 2017, a deep blue contract was signed by the Federal Ministry of Transportation, NIMASA and HLSI titled, ‘System of improving the control of Nigeria’s Economic Zone.’
The beneficiary company, HSLI International, is incorporated under the laws of Seychelles with a registered office in Cyprus. Its local subsidiary, HSLI Systems and technologies, is located in Wuse II, Abuja and represented by Mr. Pinhas Moria and Mr Oren Chaluzi, both said to be Israelis. was gathered.
HSLI is to establish an integrated National Coastal Surveillance and Waterways Protection solutions.
According to the Ministry of Transportation, its reason for embarking on a change was “to increase its monitoring and compliance enforcement within Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EPZ) due to illegal activities that have increased and intensified in the Gulf of Guinea in recent time.
The contract sum for this project shall be the sum of $195,300million equivalent to N59, 839, 920billion, while 10% of the sum $19,530,000 will be for management training, it was gathered.
The inevitable questions are, what is the essence of bringing in HSLI to do a job that had been efficiently done at no cost to the government by a Nigerian outfit company? And even if there was an area of dispute between the ministry and OMSL, why didn’t the former seek an amicable settlement rather than bringing in a foreign outfit in haste? Why was the capability of OMSL not considered, having already deployed 50 vessels and invested heavily in building capacity, while HSLI is proposing to purchase two vessels?
There is certainly much more to this transaction than meets the ordinary eye.