Nigeria’s navy is forcibly preventing the use of security guards from either private military companies or the country’s own police force on ships within the country’s exclusive economic zone, despite high levels of piracy in West Africa, according to an advisory note from shipowner association BIMCO.
Separately, the West of England P&I Club has highlighted the arrest of a vessel sailing in Nigerian waters by the Nigerian navy for employing armed guards provided by the Nigerian police.
The International Maritime Organization has approached the Nigerian authorities with a request for clarification, the club understands.
There are also reports of “blue on blue” violence, where police have opened fire on naval vessels believing them to be pirates, resulting in death or injury to seafarers caught in the crossfire.
The clear indications of increasing inter-service rivalry come at a time when two British former marines employed by security contractor Port2Port are still facing trial in Nigeria after being arrested in Warri in March while waiting to board a product tanker.
The Nigerian navy’s policy is only to provide vessel escorts, at charge to owners, and regards itself as having sole authority in territorial waters and the EEZ.
“BIMCO has been advised that the Nigerian navy does not provide or permit armed guards on merchant vessels,” BIMCO said in its circular.
This applies both to private contractors and marine police, who only have primacy in river areas and ports and harbours out to the fairway buoy.
“The navy has seemingly begun enforcing its alleged authority to prevent the employment of armed guards on board and this has resulted in the arrest of members of the Nigerian marine police and consequent delays to the vessel and unresolved liabilities placed on the owners,” BIMCO added.
BIMCO’s chief maritime security officer Giles Noakes said that BIMCO was aware of the situation and that potential liability issues were arising for owners.
Mr Noakes said that Nigerian police were being used as armed guards by some operators, even though they do not have the necessary authority to do so outside of ports. The navy had arrested some policemen, he confirmed.
It appears to be the case that only the navy can provide protection for vessels, and that this protection is limited to escorts rather than provision of guards, although clarification is being sought.
PMSCs are thought not to be allowed to provide armed guards in Nigerian territorial waters.
An IMO spokesperson said that Nigeria and other countries had been asked to provide further information on their policies towards armed guards on ships.
“IMO does not have a position on the carriage of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships,” he said.
“However, we would welcome clarity from all coastal states as to what is their position, so that merchant ships do not inadvertently fall foul of coastal state laws.”
For more maritime news see Lloyd’s List