By Anthony Areh
The Nigerian Government has handed over a fishing vessel, `Marine 707’, suspected to be carrying out illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea to Ghanaian authorities for further investigation and possible prosecution.
Nigeria also handed over 51 crew members including 48 Ghanaians and three South Korea nationals to the Governments of Ghana and Korea respectively.
Mr Philip Kyanet, Head, Corporate Communications, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), disclosed this in a statement in Lagos on Sunday.
According to him, the vessel which has authorisation to fish in Ghana and Benin waters was arrested by the Nigerian Navy on May 18, around Southwest of Lagos waters when her Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched off.
He said that they were suspected to be used for piracy or being used as a mother ship to conduct piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and handed over to the NIMASA after preliminary investigations by the Navy.
The Director-General of NIMASA, Dr Bashir Jamoh, during the handover of the vessel and crew to respective authorities, said the Navy, NIMASA partnership which was now hinged on intelligence had put Nigeria on a pedestal of winning the war against piracy and other illegal acts at sea.
Jamoh who was represented by the agency’s Commander, Maritime Guard Command, Commodore Aniete Ibok, said that preliminary investigations could not establish that the vessel and her crew were directly linked to piracy.
He said that, however, the vessel still ran afoul of international laws for shutting down its Automatic Identification System (AIS) 36 times in the last 6 months, three of which were done in the Nigerian waters.
According to him, we are handing over this vessel to the Ghanaian authorities in the spirit of bilateral cooperation that both countries enjoy.
“We have done our preliminary investigations and we are yet to establish any concrete evidence against the vessel.
“But again, we will not know what she will be doing whenever she turns off her AIS which occurred 36 times without being logged in her record book in line with international protocols and three of these were in our domain.
“However in the spirit of brotherhood that Ghana and Nigeria enjoys, we are handing over the vessel to Ghana for further investigations,” he said.
The director-general warned individuals or organisations thinking of perpetuating any form of illegalities in the Gulf of Guinea to be ready to face the full wrath of the law.
He said that with the Anti-piracy law in place along with the Navy, NIMASA’s partnership that was waxing stronger, major focus would be on security in the Nigerian maritime domain and the entire Gulf of Guinea.
“We will not condone any act of illegality in our maritime space. We have improved our intelligence sharing with relevant agencies.
“With what we are doing now, in no distant time, piracy will be a thing of the past in the Gulf of Guinea because we have a robust anti-piracy law that will deal with perpetrators of illegalities in our waters,” he said.
While receiving the vessel and the crew on behalf of the Ghana Maritime Authority, the Second Secretary Consular of Ghana in Nigeria, David Ako Sowah, commended the Nigerian authorities for being professional in handling the case.
He said that what Nigeria did, was for the benefit of the entire countries in the Gulf of Guinea.
“As the big brother in this region, Nigeria has done well in showing a lot of maturity in handling this case and I want to assure you that Ghana will also look into more collaborations with Nigeria to ensure that the Gulf of Guinea remains safe for maritime activities’,” he said.
Equally speaking during the hand over, the Consular General of the Republic of Korea in Nigeria, Kim Ln-taek, commended the party involved in handling the case.
He said his findings from the Captain of the Ship who was a Korean, informed that the AIS was bad.
He noted that the vessel and her crew erred by not following the protocols of logging it in the record books when the AIS was down but he was happy that the case had been resolved up till this point.
The Ghana-flagged vessel with International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) number 7419755 and registration number 316880 is owned and operated by World Marine Company Ltd., Japan.
As at the time of arrest, it had 51 crew on board with most of the crew being Ghanaians except three who were from the Republic of Korea.
This case also brings to the fore the efforts of NIMASA and Navy in the battle against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
It would be recalled that the Navy recently arrested 10 pirates on a Chinese fishing vessel and handed them over for prosecution under the newly-signed anti-piracy law.