Over the weekend, gunmen attacked a vessel belonging to an oil services company in the Niger Delta, which resulted in the death of two Nigerian sailors guarding the vessel and the kidnapping of four expatriates. In response to the attacks, the Nigerian navy has dispatched a ship and a helicopter to the area.
According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB), instances of piracy and armed robbery at sea are increasing in West Africa – most notably in Nigeria. If you look at the IMB’s Report for the Period of 1 January – 30 June 2012 (request a PDF here), you can see that there were 17 actual or attempted attacks in the first six months of 2012. This is compared with 10 attacks for the entirety of 2011 – and is trending towards the number of attacks for the same six-month period of time in 2007 (19 attacks) and 2008 (18 attacks).
Saturday’s attack came just days after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) announced that the country’s crude oil production had reached an all-time high of 2.7m barrels per day. According to the NNPC’s group managing director, the increase in output was attributed to the security measures put in place by the federal government in the region, which had begun to yield positive results.
In the 2008-2009 time period, attacks on Nigeria’s oil industry as a result of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and other militant groups had become so disruptive that Angola overtook Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil producer for some time. However, the level of violence in the region has declined since the federal government’s June 2009 amnesty program. Nonetheless, residents of the region are concerned about how long the amnesty program will continue to be supported by the government, and what might happen to it if/when President Goodluck Jonathan is voted out of office or does not run in the 2015 elections.
On a somewhat related note, the NNS Andoni, Nigeria’s first domestically designed and constructed warship was launched in June. At 100ft long and reaching speeds of up to 25 knots, the Nigerian navy hopes that the NNS Andoni will increase its ability to deter or pursue pirates operating near the country’s offshore oilfields.
I am not aware of plans to construct other vessels in Nigeria. Regardless, whether Nigeria builds its own warships or commissions them from abroad, it will be important to pay attention to whether or not the government has allocated funding to maintain its fleet. In my experience, countries that do not budget for maritime security tend to have a poor maintenance culture, and their vessels quickly cease to be capable of getting underway on a regular basis.