Tag Archives: Corruption

Nauru: A Lesson in Failure

Have you ever heard of Nauru? This small island of the South Pacific is not very well-known but its story could be representative of the one of humanity.

A little history

Nauru was formerly called “pleasant island” and if it may have been really pleasant, it is no longer the best tourist destination.

With its 21 square kilometers for less than 10 000 inhabitants, it is the second smallest state in the world after the Vatican.

As many islands in the South Pacific, Nauru was colonised by a European state in the 19th century. The German Empire settled in the small island to make it part of its protectorate of the Marshall Islands.

During this time, the Australian prospector Albert Fuller Ellis discovered phosphate in  Nauru’s underground. Phosphate is widely used in agriculture and is an essential component in fertiliser and feed.

After contracting an arrangement with  the German administration, Ellis began mining in 1906.

But soon, WWI happened and Australia, New Zealand and the UK took over Nauru and started administrating the island and its phosphate. In 1923, the League of Nations gave Australia a trustee mandate over Nauru, with the United Kingdom and New Zealand as co-trustee.

Then the Japanese troops occupied the small island during WWII. It’s only in 1968 that Nauru gained its independence, shortly after buying the assets of the phosphate companies. This enabled Nauru to become one of the richest island in the South Pacific.

All Used Up

Between 1968 and 2002, Nauru exported 43 millions of tons of phosphate for an amount of 3,6 billions Australian dollars. But 21 square kilometers is a small area to have mines everywhere and now there is no phosphate left.

The Land of the Fat

In the meantime, people of Nauru started having access to a lot of money and  to live the American way. Apart from phosphate, there are very few resources on the island. Therefore, most products were imported, including big American cars and fat food. It did not take long before inhabitants of Nauru  became the most obese people in the world, which led the British journal ‘The Independent’ to call Nauru ‘the land of the fat’. Indeed, according to the World Health Organisation, 97 percent of men and 93 percent of women in Nauru are overweight or obese.

Those people who used to eat fish, coconuts and root vegetables now eat imported processed foods which are high in sugar and fat. Now, more  than 40% of the population is affected with type 2 diabetes, cancers, kidney and heart disease.

Money, Money, Money

In the 80’s, Nauru was very rich. However, soon, growing corruption, bad investments and big spending on the government’s side made Nauru a very indebt country.

Nauru’s bank accounts are all in Australia, simply because there are no banks in Nauru (the only one left, the National Bank of Nauru is actually insolvent). In October 2014, an Australian court ruled that Nauru owed 16 million Australian dollars to US-based investment fund Firebird, which had lent money to the government of the small island. But  the government of Nauru did not respect the  court’s decision and it defaulted on the bonds. Since it did not reimburse Firebird, its debt soon amounted to 31 million Australian dollars. Firebird had then prevented Nauru’s government from accessing its bank accounts held in Australia and had frozen all of Nauru’s acounts. Nauru’s administration immediately warned that it was about to run out of cash and that it could not pay for essential goods, such as generator fuel, and public servant salaries. It would have been a national disaster because from the 10% people who have a job in Nauru, 95% are employed by the government. Nauru’s unemployment rate is estimated to be 90 percent. The government clearly needed money to buy fuel to produce energy, since it did not invest in renewable energies. Without fuel, no possibility to have a functioning hospital or to have fresh water, because sea water is pumped and then desalinated, a process that needs lot of energy. And without fuel, all the planes stick to the ground.

Finally, Nauru merely won the court case and did not have to repay Firebird. Is this decision linked to the fact that Nauru hosts Australia asylum-seekers in a detention center? Maybe. If all the planes stick to the ground, that means that the center is no longer running; every day, new asylum seekers come and  go, and so do doctors, lawyers and others.

Furthermore, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) declared that although Nauru’s administration has a strong public mandate to implement economic reforms, in the absence of an alternative to phosphate mining, the medium-term outlook is for continued dependence on external assistance (mainly from Australia and China). In 2007, the ADB estimated  Nauru GDP per capita at $2,400 to $2,715. That’s not a lot!

Public enemy n°1

In the 1990s, Nauru became a tax heaven and started selling passports to foreign nationals.

It led the inter-governmental body based in Paris, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), to add Nauru to its list of 15  non-cooperative countries in its fight against money laundering. Experts estimate that Nauru triggered a $5 trillion shadow economy. According to Viktor Melnikov, previous deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank,  in 1998 Russian criminals laundered about $70 billion through Nauru. The island  started suffering the harshest sanctions imposed on any country, harsher than those against Iraq and Yugoslavia. European banks did no longer allow any dollar-denominated transactions which involved Nauru. This is why in 2003, under pressure from FATF, the government of  Nauru introduced anti-avoidance legislation. The result was quick: foreign capitals left the island. Two years later, satisfied by the legislation and its effects, the FATF removed Nauru from its black list.

The difficult relationship between Australia and Nauru

There is a very special relation between Australia and Nauru. Australia administered Nauru  from 1914 to 1968. However, Nauru did not seem entirely satisfied with the Australian administration. Indeed, in 1989, Nauru took legal action against its former master in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Nauru was attacking the Australian way of administrating the little island and in particular Australia’s failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining.

You can find the judgement here.

In 1993, Nauru and Australia notified the ICJ  that, having reached a settlement, the two parties had agreed to discontinue the proceedings : Australia had offered Nauru an out-of-court settlement of 2.5 million Australian dollars annually for 20 years.

In 2001, Australia asked Nauru to help it fight immigration. The two countries signed an agreement  known as “the Pacific solution”. In exchange for an important economic aid, the small island of 21 square meters agreed to host a detention center for people seeking asylum in Australia. This agreement officially came to an end in 2007 but the two countries are still looking for a solution to help Nauru’s economy survive. Which means the detention center is still running.

Furthermore,  we know that a significant portion of Nauru’s income comes in the form of aid from Australia. In 2008, Australia committed €17 million in aid for the 2009 financial year, along with assistance for “a plan aimed at helping Nauru to survive without aid.”

In November 2014, the Australian independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie wrote to the International Criminal Court (ICC) asking it to investigate Abbott’s government for crimes against humanity over its treatment of asylum seekers .

Abbott’s government has consistently argued that its offshore processing and resettlement policies have stopped people attempting to arrive in Australia by boat and therefore saved lives. For the moment, asylum seekers who arrive to Australia by boat will be refused visas and the ‘Pacific Solution’ is implemented; under this policy, asylum seekers arriving without authorisation are sent to Australian-funded detention camps in Nauru or the island of Manus in Papua New-Guinea rather than being allowed to claim asylum on the Australian mainland. In September 2014, Canberra paid 40 million Australian dollars to the government of Cambodia for Phnom Penh to welcome asylum seekers from Australia. Furthermore, a new legislation from September 2014 will make it harder for asylum seekers already in Australia who arrived by boat to make visa applications.

Nauru’s diplomacy

After having sold many passports, the Nauru’s government decided to communicate on positive actions.

In 2008, immediately after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, Nauru recognised it as an independent country.

One year later, along with Russia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, Nauru recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions from Georgia. After a war with Georgia, Moscow had tried to secure international recognition for the two regions. According to the Russian newspaper  ‘Kommersant’, Russia gave $50 million in humanitarian aid to the little Pacific state.

Nauru is Kiribati’s neighbour, an atoll famous for disappearing and for sending the first climate change refugees abroad, to Fiji. With no space left to grow food or to live, no fresh water and always more refugees coming, the people of Nauru might also desert their island soon.

Hopefully, the story of the small island of Nauru will not be a sample to the history of humanity’s little island orbiting the sun!

Alix is a writer, researcher, and correspondent on the Asia-Pacific region for Marine Renewable Energy LTD. She previously served as a maritime policy advisor to the New Zealand Consul General in New Caledonia and as the French Navy’s Deputy Bureau Chief for State Action at Sea, New Caledonia Maritime Zone

Risks in Contracting Government Security Forces in The Gulf of Guinea

My previous article explored the use of police and naval forces in Nigeria for the provision of private maritime security. The analysis focused on the Nigerian Navy’s Western Naval Command’s area of responsibility and visiting merchant vessels, rather than the use of security forces on oil & gas prospects inside the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

This article investigates the effectiveness of various private arrangements with Nigerian security as well as some updates on the “usage” and liability implications for shipping companies utilizing such services.

Status of the use of Nigerian Navy and Police for private maritime security roles

There is no single legislation specifically dedicated to regulating maritime security issues in Nigeria. Rather, the issue of maritime security in Nigeria is dealt with in piecemeal fashion in various legislative instruments, as a result of which there seems to be some degree of overlap of functions between the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Marine Police (NMP). What we observe at the moment is the evolution of rules and policies through practice adopted by security agencies within their respective jurisdictions. As I have pointed out in my last article here, there is a discrepancy between the individual arrangements by unauthorised agents and clients and the rules and policies set by the security agencies irrespective of whether those are enforced or not.

Subsequent to my previous article, the Inspector General of the Police (IGP) has reiterated in writing to the Commissioners of Police (Maritime) in the relevant coastal states of Nigeria his policy that his personnel (the NMP) are not to be used outside their jurisdiction. Some agents and security providers have sought to side-step this restriction by alleging they had been granted permission to embark naval personnel. The Nigerian Navy’s position remains that any use of Nigerian Navy personnel without a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or in contravention to the terms therein is considered “unofficial allocation” and thus unauthorised. No evidence in writing, except the acknowledgement by various naval commands of receipt of enquiries, have been provided to back claims that the Nigerian Navy has reversed its previous stance that it has adopted since 2012.

[Photo: “Acknowledgement of receipt” provided by a security provider to a client as “evidence” of approval to embark naval personnel.]
[Photo: “Acknowledgement of receipt” provided by a security provider to a client as “evidence” of approval to embark naval personnel.]
Embarked security teams vs patrol boats

Embarked security forces are a relatively new development in Nigeria. Traditionally, government security forces (in the Niger Delta) have utilized light craft for escort duties. Embarked teams were largely confined to platforms, which inside the EEZ constitute extensions of sovereign territory. Whether this approach was the result of a deliberate security planning process or not is now hard to establish, but it has had implications on how the navy’s light forces have evolved from their operational and tactical low point in 2006/7 until today and how the Nigerian Navy views its role in securing private assets in Nigerian waters.

Embarked security teams in Nigeria, where they exist, continue to share many attributes of the poorly trained and motivated forces that make up the bulk of Nigeria’s garrison army and land-based security forces. Adding this to the lack of aptitude (in terms of training, familiarization etc.) of those teams for the maritime environment, then it becomes clear that the question whether to use embarked security or escort vessels is more than a legal (or even financial) question; it is about the ability to deliver effective security and mitigate risks without creating (more than is necessary) new ones.

Embarked security teams

The record of embarked security forces on client vessels is in the Gulf of Guinea is mixed. Contrary to the Indian Ocean experience, vessel carrying embarked armed teams off Nigeria have been boarded and seized by attackers or crewmembers kidnapped, although this was most frequently the case in the context of the Niger Delta insurgency between 2006 and 2009 that targeted floating offshore installations, such as the FSO OLOIBIRI, the FPSO MYTRAS or the BERGE OKOLOBA TORU. However, the conditions and modus operandi that embarked teams continue to face in and off the Niger Delta remain similar and many target vessels today are in fact tankers that are stationary, drifting or engaged in ship-to-ship transfers and therefore tactically not more challenging to the attackers (who are for the most part ex-militants). If anything, the small product tankers are easier to board than the high-freeboard Floating Production Storage & Offloading units targeted by the militants during the insurgency.

The vulnerability of embarked security teams is even more pronounced for security vessels, especially those of an improvised nature with no mounted weapons, which are a requirement for those vessels approved by the Nigerian Navy under the current MoU. In the discussion on pirate violence in Nigeria it is often forgotten that almost half of the casualties to date in pirate incidents have been government security forces – usually embarked on vessels of oil & gas contractors. This has prompted the Nigerian inter-agency Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta to declare a ban on using such embarked teams from 19 November 2013 onwards in favour of river gun boats. Companies continue to ignore this at their own risk, as a recent example of an attack on a contractor vessel on the Sambreiro River on 17 June 2014 shows: one soldier and two crewmembers were injured before the attackers managed to snatch an employee of an oil company from the boat.

The embarked security forces’ shortfalls range from inability to detect and engage at night (when the bulk of attacks take place off Nigeria), inability to manoeuvre, and lack of co-ordination to poor weapons discipline. Poor motivation of the embarked soldiers and police officers in the face of aggressive and well-equipped attackers complement the picture. This pattern has not fundamentally changed since 2006/7.

Case Study 1: SP BRUSSELS

The fatality of one crewmember on board the PYXIS DELTA roads during a shoot-out between her embarked security detachment and attackers on Lagos roads the night of 4 February 2013 was brushed off as a tragic accident. The attack on the Marshall Island-flagged product tanker SP BRUSSELS off the Niger Delta on 29 April 2014, however, highlighted the risks associated with embarking armed teams in the Gulf of Guinea, especially off Nigeria. These risks are commonly misunderstood by people who believe that armed teams have the same effect in the region as they have in the Indian Ocean. This is not the case.

The SP BRUSSELS’s chief engineer paid for this misunderstanding with his life; the 3rd officer narrowly escaped when the ship’s bridge suddenly turned into a shooting gallery. While, arguably, the guards prevented the ship from being hijacked, they did so at a price. Given that none of the 38 successful tanker hijackings since the VALLE DI CORDOBA incident in December 2010 in the Gulf of Guinea had resulted in a fatality, this was an avoidable result.

From the confused crew accounts of the attack on the SP BRUSSELS and the Nigerian Navy’s investigation several things become clear:

The vessel was transiting in international waters with two embarked Nigerian policemen (NMP) as security guards. At the time of the attack (ca. 2015 hrs) by a single speedboat and a total of 8 attackers, the ship was idling at 6 kts approximately 35 nm from the Bayelsa coast, SW of Forcados (Delta State), a notoriously dangerous area off the Niger Delta at the time.

  • Of the 2-man team, one was on watch, smoking at the time of the attack in the starboard bridge wing (the attack unfolded on the port side, leading to the death of the chief engineer)
  • There was no general alert and the second guard had to be roused by a crewmember. By the time he arrived on deck it appeared some attackers had already boarded.
  • The guard team appears to have made their stand on the bridge, possibly killing two pirates in the process while the ship’s crew hid in the citadel (with the exception of the injured 3rd officer and the dead chief engineer).
  • The actual course of events until the next morning remains controversial, with the Nigerian Navy alleging that their intervention by NNS BENIN and NNS IKOT-ABASI had resulted in the defeat of the pirates and the subsequent arrest of the 6 surviving attackers.
  • The chief engineer’s exact circumstances of death are uncertain as is the injury of the 3rd officer, as he fled the bridge.

[Photo: Damage to the bridge of SP BRUSSELS from the firefight on the bridge. (Source: withheld)]
[Photo: Damage to the bridge of SP BRUSSELS from the firefight on the bridge. (Source: withheld)]
The ship was eventually taken into custody by the Nigerian Navy on Lagos roads the following morning and detained for several weeks as a part of the investigation, which also extended to the question whether or not the ship had been permitted to carry NMP personnel outside their jurisdiction.

Case Study 2: SEA STERLING

The Nigerian-flagged product tanker SEA STERLING was attacked on 26 August 2014 west of the Pennington Loading Terminal, 45 nm SSE of the position in which the SP BRUSSELS had been attacked in an area, which to date in 2014 had experienced no less than 3 kidnappings, a hijacking and at least 7 attacks against product tankers – the majority in January-March 2014.

The SEA STERLING carried a team of three Nigerian Navy ratings, procured through a PMSC that had recently set up business in Nigeria and held the same MoU with the Navy like all 42 security companies, which, as mentioned above, only permits the use of navy personnel on “suitable” and “approved” vessels, i.e. patrol boats which are entered into the Nigerian Navy’s list of warships.

[Photo: The SEA STERLING on Lagos roads in April 2014. (Dirk Steffen)]
[Photo: The SEA STERLING on Lagos roads in April 2014. (Dirk Steffen)]
Like other episodes, which have aroused the suspicion of Nigerian authorities, the contrasting versions of the incident do not quite add up. The ship allegedly spotted a bunker barge trailing her at 1810 hrs and then claimed to have been pursued until 2100 hrs at which point a speedboat was lowered and approached the tanker. The distress signal was sent at this point, although the ship’s AIS had been switched off at 1812 hrs, indicating a speed of 6.2 knots at the time and a destination port of Lomé, rather than Onne, which was claimed to be the vessel’s destination. There ensued an on-and-off engagement in which the attackers subjected the ship to suppression fire – allegedly with two belt-fed weapons – and at least two individuals boarded the tanker.

A privately contracted patrol vessel (name withheld) from an adjacent oil field responded to the distress call and arrived on the scene at 2345 hrs, firing several warning shots which prompted the boarders to disembark, return to the bunker barge and flee the scene of the crime. The ship was inspected by the naval craft, but lacking further authority could not prevent from SEA STERLING departing from the area in the early hours of 28 August with her AIS still switched off.

Patrol boats: opportunities and limitations

In a report of Gulf of Guinea tanker hijackings Risk intelligence identified at least 11 cases between December 2010 and August 2013 which involved a local or international naval response with warships, either as part of a patrol scheme or in response to an ongoing at­tack. This figure does not include incidents where local navies were called and did not respond or react. In six of the seven “prevention cases” the naval forces were success­ful in disrupting the attack; in one case two Beninese naval vessels were too late to intervene in order to prevent a hi­jacking. This was in part owed to the ship under attack – the RBD ANEMA E CORE (hijacked on 24 July 2011 off Cotonou) – waiting too long before sending out a distress call.

Once pirates have boarded a ship, the scope for any intervention is much reduced, as the “response cases” show. The unsuccessful sortie of the Togolese Navy in response to the attack on the ENERGY CENTURION on 28 August 2012 off Lomé stands out as an example of local navies’ inability to ensure security of the patrolled zones and to respond effectively at the same time. This argument has been made before, but since that very early stage of the (then very vaguely defined) Togolese secure anchorage, this type of failure has not been repeated.

The inability of local naval forces to provide a timely and effective response is a key argument for those promoting embarked security forces, even though dedicated escort is available both in the Secure Anchorage Area and the Bonny River Convoy. Neither of those two secured operations has so far experienced a successful pirate attack. Patrol boats can also be hired directly, but the cost is a multiple of the embarked team, which serves as a commercial deterrent and is more likely to be the key argument in favour of the embarked security forces.

[Photo: NNS IKOT-ABASI, pictured here on Lagos roads in April 2014, responded to the distress call made by the SP BRUSSELS. (Dirk Steffen)]
[Photo: NNS IKOT-ABASI, pictured here on Lagos roads in April 2014, responded to the distress call made by the SP BRUSSELS. (Dirk Steffen)]
On balance, however, experience of the past 2-3 years has shown that attackers usually desist or abandon their endeavours in the presence of patrol boats – be they actual navy vessels or privately contracted look-alikes. The drastic, most likely punitive, killings of 13 of the 16 pirates who boarded the Nigerian-owned tanker NORTE (with a cargo owned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company) on 17 August 2013 is thought to have had an impact on the mindset and modus operandi of would-be tanker hijackers in terms of that it will become more likely that attackers will resort to using human shields while retreating to the safety of the creeks in the Niger Delta. Equally, restraint by the navies (as was the case in the hijacking of the ADOUR on 13 June 2013, although this was an intervention after the deed, not one that resulted from a failed protection mission) can ensure safety of the hostages in case of a successful boarding by pirates.


In terms of liability and externalisation of risk, the patrol boats have some advantages over the embarked navy teams. Since even the contracted patrol boats are under navy operational command, law suits for loss of life of navy personnel or damage to navy property will be unlikely, especially inside territorial waters. Conversely, a major European charterer is currently being sued by the Nigerian government over the death of a policeman who was killed while being part of an embarked team.

The possibility of the patrol boat directing its fire against the client vessel (for example to prevent a boarding) is a real risk and probably the gravest. So far, this has not occurred in the Gulf of Guinea. On the other hand, several casualties have occurred as a result of embarked security teams being involved in the defence of merchant vessels. While, it is unclear who actually shot the 3rd officer on the SP BRUSSEL’s bridge, the use of Nigerian Police Force personnel outside their jurisdiction and outside territorial waters had wider-ranging implications for the vessel’s insurance and potentially also opens up the way for a lawsuit by the deceased chief engineer’s relatives against the shipping company.

Many of these liability issues are at the moment only being superficially considered by shipowners and operators especially when arrangements for the provision of embarked security forces are made or implemented in breach of existing legislation or other “policies” promulgated by the security agencies – also referred to as “unofficial allocations” in Nigerian Navy parlance. In this regard, it must be noted that every marine insurance policy has an implied warranty that the voyage is lawful. Thus, having embarked armed guards (or a patrol boat escort as well for that matter) without an express provision in the insurance policy to cover such operations, and that such operations conform to applicable law, may render a lawful voyage potentially unlawful, which in turn may invalidate the policy and discharge the insurer(s) from the liability.

As far as claims by the Nigerian government are concerned, the Nigerian Navy and Police Force may be confronted with a situation in which they will not be indemnified for suffering losses for providing a service inside territorial waters which they would be obliged to render anyway (maritime security) even without pay. However, it is evident that the Nigerian government intends to pursue shipowners or charterers for compensation regardless.


In spite of both local and foreign (even if incorporated in Nigeria) security providers’ attempts to exploit the legal loopholes and lack of inter-agency co-ordination and enforcement of security agencies’ policies, the use of embarked Nigerian security forces in Nigerian waters or offshore Nigeria remains fraught with risks which appear to outweigh the benefits. The use of such teams is frequently an excuse for neglecting other security measures and, understandably, a product of cost and expedience.

The Nigerian Navy remains committed to promoting its own vision of providing localised security through (often privately operated) patrol boats and secured areas and will continue to apply political leverage to that effect, therefore creating a tangible risk for all “unofficial allocations” of government security personnel. As evidenced by the IGP’s directive and the Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command’s written approval for the use of NMP inside their jurisdiction on contractors’ security vessels, the Nigerian Police Force’s policy is not as divergent from the Navy’s as it is frequently portrayed.

Photo: Letter by the Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command authorizing the use of Nigerian Police inside their jurisdiction on contractors’ security vessels.
Photo: Letter by the Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command authorizing the use of Nigerian Police inside their jurisdiction on contractors’ security vessels.


The current lawsuit over the death of a Nigerian policeman also illustrates that the “official” Nigerian policy takes a dim view of what little regulation exists being undermined by foreign shipping companies and charterers through the use of what are effectively rogue security teams. Whether or not the security agencies’ policies are driven by particular (pecuniary) interests rather than by an overarching security strategy is immaterial with regards to the risks that parties run when ignoring these “official” policies, which are de facto enforced, in favour of “unofficial arrangements”.

Finally, it is becoming increasingly evident that embarked teams – whether contracted directly or through foreign PMSCs – do not provide the level of risk reduction as advertised (or experienced in the Indian Ocean) because they often attract violence by a particular type of Niger Delta-based attackers in a way that embarked security does not in other places of the world.

Dirk Steffen is the Director Maritime Security for Denmark-based Risk Intelligence. He has been covering the Gulf of Guinea as a consultant and analyst since 2004.

Nigeria’s Navy: Setting Sail in Stormy Seas


In the din of East African security issues, the navy of Africa’s most populous nation has fallen out of the international eye. With continued pressure on diversified procurement, increasing capability, and new international cooperation, Nigeria’s Navy is slowly growing to fill a void dominated by piracy, petroleum smuggling, and other criminal elements that is re-engaging international attention in Western Africa. Whereas the state of Somalia has been quite unable to manage its offshore affairs, the Nigerian Navy has plotted a course out to sea under the pall of its severe security challenges. If the challenges of oversight, funding, and collusion don’t capsize their efforts, it may become a quite fine sailing.

Procurement-Let’s Go Shopping:

Since 2009, Nigeria has been pursuing an aggressive new procurement program. During the last Nigerian naval modernization period, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Nigeria purchased a vast number of vessels from Germany (LST’s) , France (Combattantes), the UK (Thornycraft), Italy (Lerici minesweepers), and others. Unlike the procurement processes familiar in larger navies, such those of NATO, Nigeria ran an “open-source” program, pulling already-proven foreign systems off the foreign shelf. This new buildup is similar, with some new attempt to build local ship-building capacity.

NNS Thunder, the former USCG Chase
NNS Thunder, the former USCG Chase

The three big ticket “ship of the line” purchases are the 2 “Offshore Patrol Vessels” and the NNS Thunder. The NNS Thunder is the old school “off the shelf” style ship purchase, bringing a Hamilton-class High Endurance Cutter, the ex-USCG Chase, into Nigerian service in 2011. The “Offshore Patrol Vessels” were commissioned with China Industry Shipbuilding Corporation and approved for purchase by President Jonathan in April of 2012. The fleet’s major combatant until the NNS Thunder was the NNS Aradu, an over 30 year old vessel and Nigeria’s only aviation-capable ship. The new contenders will add a total of 5 new 76mm Oto Melara’s added to the fleet, a none too shabby improvement of overall firepower for littoral operations. The 45 (NNS Thunder)/ 20 (OPV’s) day endurance will give the Nigerian Navy an impressive new stay-time for continuous at-sea opeartions. Arguably most important is that all three vessels have maritime aviation capabilities that will greatly expand the reach and ISR component of Nigerian maritime operations. These three ships are right on target to fill critical gaps in Nigeria’s capabilities.

Nigerian Navy Shaldag mk III
Nigerian Navy Shaldag mk III

Nigeria’s littoral squadrons are also scheduled for improvement. Nigeria is purchasing several brown-green water patrol craft to bolster her much-beleaguered inshore security where smuggling of all kinds is rife. Singaporean Manta’s and Sea Eagle’s, US Defender’s, Israeli Shaldag Mk III’s, and others will add potent brown and green water assets to Nigeria’s toolbox.

On small ship for a ship, one large ship for Nigerian Shipbuilding kind.
On small ship for a ship, one large ship for Nigerian Shipwright kind.

However, not all of Nigeria’s purchases are imports. Thi package also begins the cultivation of indigenous ship-building capability. One of the aforementioned OPV’s is scheduled for 70% of its construction to occur in Nigeria. To more fanfare, the NNS Andoni was commissioned in 2012. Designed by Nigerian engineers and produced locally with 60% locally sourced parts, it is considered a good step forward for building local expertise and capability in the realm of the shipwrights. More local capacity and expertise will further increase the ease with which ships bought locally, or abroad, can be maintained.

-But Avoid the Bait and Switch!

While flexible, this off-the-shelf model can lead to some bad dealings either by vendors or government buyers. Flexible US defense procurement specialists would love more unilateral authority and oversight compared to their gilded cage of powerpoint nightmares. However, the opposite can lead to incredibly terrible purchasing decisions. While Nigeria’s 2 OPV’s are running for current a total cost of $42m, a proposal was made to purchase one 7 year old vessel for $65m dollars. That vessel had a further $25m in damage that needed to be repaired. That particular vessel now sails as the KNS Jasiri after a large financing scandal of several years ended. At the time of delivery it appeared completely unarmed as well, though since it has since had weapons installed.  If one were to ask why Nigeria would want to buy a single unarmed vessel with no aviation capability for the price of 4 more gunned-up and helo-ready OPV’s, the answer is probably not a “clean” one. Oversight is going to continue to be an issue in a country with one of the bottom corruption ratings.

Capability- Shooting more, shooting together :

Popped collars, midriff, and tiny shorts? Worst pirates EVER!
Popped collars, midriff, and tiny shorts? Worst pirates EVER!

Ships are all well and good, but what matters is what you do with them and how. Though the scale of offshore criminality is likely in total hovering around 10 billion, and the entire naval budget is roughly a half billion, the Nigerian Navy is moving more aggressively to course-correct their coastal regions. Several instances include a successful gun battle in August, ending the careers of six pirates, further arrests for oil theft in september, and a nice little capture of pirates in August for which photo opportunities were ensured for the press. The Nigerian Navy is further attempting to extend the “immediacy” of their reach by establishing Forward Operating Bases, like the ones at Bayelsa and Delta states. These and many other instances are the nickles-and-dimes as the Nigerian Navy chips away at the corners of their behemoth security challenge at sea. Every journey begins with a single step, and though the Nigerian Navy has reached a bit of a trot, they have a long way to go. But even in the Navy, no man is an island. With a limited budget and math-rough half of the budget going to the army, the Nigerian Navy needs support. The civil and military authorities are moving closer to that “joint” model with the Memorandum of Understanding between the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) on the use of NAF assets in Anti-Piracy operations. With an existing MoU between NIMASA, this creates further points of coordination between civil, naval, and air force assets in a coordinated battle against criminals at sea. It’s no J3/J5 shop, but it’s a start.

-But Don’t Undershoot!

The Nigerian Navy’s take from the $5.947bn defense budget is a cool $445m. This is a continued increase for both the defense budget overall and the navy budget specifically and is expected to continue increasing. While this is all well and good, the Nigerian Navy faces a criminal enterprise worth billions: Piracy ($2bn), Oil Theft: ($8bn), and others. The Nigerian Navy itself has a way to go with shoring up its vast body of small arms, ammunition, and gear. In 2012,  a fact-finding mission by members of the Nigerian senate found an appalling state of affairs in regards to equipment shortages, maintenance, and a whole slew of other steady-state problems. Enthusiasm and new ships can only go so far. The Nigerian Navy needs to spend the extra money to shore up their flanks, refurbishing or replacing their vast stock of older ships, weapons, equipment, and ordnance stores (without forgetting training).

Cooperation- Team Player: 4026984_orig

Nigeria is no stranger to international cooperation. Many forget that in August 26th, 1996, ECOMOG (under ECOWAS) actually conducted an amphibious assault into Liberia led by Nigerian military units. From peacekeeping in Liberia, to Sierra Leone, to Darfur, to Mali, etc… etc… Nigeria troops have been a staple of many peacekeeping efforts. Now, their typical face abroad, the boots on the ground, is pulling back to the homeland to fight Boko Haram. However, the navy is still extending its project to integrate into partnership programs through both engagement at home and extending the hand abroad. Nigeria is an active catalyst of the regional security regime. For one, ECOWAS is a factor at sea as well as land. At an ECOWAS conference ending 9 OCT, the naval chiefs of Nigeria, Niger, Benin, and Togo agreed to a common “modality” for the combating of terrorism and agreed to set up a “Maritime Multinational Coordination Center” in Benin to coordinate security efforts. It also doesn’t hurt to host the maiden run of a major procurement/policy forum in your continent, namely the “Offshore Patrol Vessels Conference” for hundreds of African and interested parties. Networking, though an intangible product, is an important way of building institutional strength and connections. Nigeria also engages with US and NATO training missions, like the most recent Operation African Wind: a training exercise for the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other regional militaries in conjunction with the Netherlands Maritime Forces under the auspices of the United States sponsored African Partnership Station. In Lagos and Calabar, units will learn about sea-borne operations, jungle combat, amphibious raids, etc… over 14 days of training and 4 days of exercises. Finally, Nigeria’s navy has made a very respectable show of striking out by conducting a “world tour” of sorts with the new NNS Thunder. The NNS Thunder made a tour around Africa before crossing the Indian Ocean for an historic visit to Australia this month for International Fleet Week. The Nigerian Navy seems determined not to remain shackled by their previous bad position, and is aggressively pursuing an expanded mission and self-image through more than just procurement. Despite the challenges ahead, they’ve demonstrated a reach few of their continental compatriots can lay claim to. It may not help against pirates, but it should be a fine addition to espirit de corps.

-But Also Collusion, Not Always the Right Team…

BURN! Someone call a trauma unit!
BURN! Someone call a trauma unit!

However, while the navy coordinates with foreign navies, some officials in Nigeria coordinate with the criminal elements. Such “industrial scale” theft of oil in particular would be impossible without the involvement of at least some security officials and politicians. The wide-spread collusion helps stall policies designed to curb the vast hemorrhaging of wealth, since the wealth is hemorrhaging to some with influence on the levers of power. This collusion is further muddled by the revelations about government payments to stop oil theft. While a pay-off policy might be effective in the short term, as it has been in Honduras, the long-term promise is muddled, especially if it turns off the money spigot to those receiving graft.  While corruption has improved since the end of the patronage-heavy military state, some see very little hope at all: from the luxurious government salaries to wholesale theft from government coffers. Whatever the case, even local perceptions of transparency are depressingly negative. If internal collusion with the criminal underground cannot be controlled, the Nigerian navy will never find itself with truly enough allies to defeat the foe some of their leaders look to for wallet-padding.

Right Course, Add More Steam:

The Nigerian Navy is making good progress. With new ships, expanded operations, and continued engagement the bow is pointed in the right direction. However, without maintaining the engineroom and navigational equipment by battling corruption and putting enough fuel in the diesels by increasing their defense budget, the Nigerian Navy will find itself floundering in the storm.

Matthew Hipple is a surface warfare officer and graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He is Director of the NEXTWAR blog and hosts of the Sea Control podcast. His opinions may not reflect those of the United States Navy, Department of Defense, or US Government. Did he mention he was host of the Sea Control podcast? You should start listening to that.