Insights and Thoughts: Maritime stakeholders seek greater security considerations in case of dead fishes on Niger Delta coastline

*NIMASA C4i will play crucial security surveillance role

*Issue of IUU must be tackled 

The concenrns and worries about possible cause(s) of the death of a shoal of croaker fish washed ashore on the coastline of the Niger Delta region have turned to need for a second look into improved maritime domain security.

In its May 13, 2020 report on findings from scientific investigations where samples of the fish and water were taken from different locations along the coastline, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) expressly called for a closer watch on illegal fishing activities on the nation’s waters, to guard against dumping of toxic waste and invasive and aquatic species.

Although the Agency ruled out hydrocarbons as cause of the deaths, it stated that the release of heavy metals would not kill fishes except if the fishes were trapped at the point of release. Significantly, the Agency said that copper was found in the fish tissue of samples taken form Delta State, while it was not present in the samples taken from Bayelsa and Rivers States.

Industry stakeholders in their separate reactions sought more attention to security checks both to tackle illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing (IUU) and to protect the marine body from toxic waste dumping.

In his perspective, the Rector, Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Commodore Emmanuel Effedua (Rtd), suggested that the Command, Control, Computer Communication and Information(C4i) operation centre would have helped in detecting perpetrators if it was a vessel that dumped either toxic waste or the dead fishes.

For the records, the C4i also called the Deep Blue Project was established by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in August 2019 for maintain maritime domain security against piracy and other criminality at sea.

Effedua noted that: “The C4i is not only meant to catch people who steal crude oil or pirates, it is also to detect the movement of vessels that are not organic to these areas. They also know what vessles that are there are supposed to be doing. Those in the control station know what vessel is out there, what the vessel is doing, whether it is siupposed to be there or not.”

Effedua said some foreign vessel from Asia or Europe could have found the sea within the Gulf of Guinea easy to come dump waste, something he said they would not do or would have to pay huge amounts of mmoney if they have to do so within their sea area.

He said: “If they need to do that, they have to pay heavily for those things to be evacuated from their vessel. But, because they have seen that it is easy for them to be alone or virtualy alone at sea within the Gulf of Guinea, they just come there, dump and go away.”

The stakeholders are certainly thinking along the same line considering that at the onset when news broke of the dead fishes ashore, Barrister Margaret Orakwusi, a former President of the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITOA) and Chairman, Ship Owners Forum, suggested the searchlight be turned on illegal fishing activities.

She was of the view that some vessel carrying croaker fish may have had a problem and decided to dump the fish.  She had also insisted on results from scientific investigations by research institutions including the institute of oceanography and marine research.  

Marine engineer and surveyor, Emmanuel Ilori, with years of experience working across the world, aligns his thoughs with those of Orakwusi. He argued that it could be from a fishing vessel because only one specie of fish was affected.

President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners, Captain Tajudeen Alao, wants the research institutions to come to the rescue in this case. He said: “There are universities that study marine science; University of Lagos, University of Port Harcourt, School of Oceanography and Marine Research. They can tell where that specie of fish is predominantly based. We know that fishes incubate in particular areas and remain there until a certain time before leaving. So, could it be that was what happened?

The reliance should be more on findings from scientific investigations, Captain Fola ojutalayo says, expressing concern about where the problem would have come from.   

But in the perspective of Effedua, the C4i, which has now established integration with the Nigerian Navy Falcon Eye for improved information sharing, in such situation “would be able to detect what is happening and deploy its air asset for investigation. And if they see a kind of discolouration around that area and a vessel is around the area, all they would do is take picture of the vessel and capturing the name.”

In such cases, Effedua said, NIMASA would be able to ascertain the vessel owners, where the vessel is coming from and what activities it is involved in. “And While that is going on, the nearest sea asset, the naval forces, would go there and arrest the vessel, take samples of the water and distribute it to the relevant research institutions and they find out the content of the vessel. And if they are found culpable, the vessel can be impounded and the owners of the vessel would be made to pay damages to Nigeria,” he added.

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