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Behind the Cloak of Secure Ancourage Area (SAA)

On October 5th, 2020, Nigeria recorded an embarrassing incident when seven of its nationals were arrested as stowaways on board a Liberian-flagged vessel, MT Nave Andromeda, six miles off the Isle of Wight, England.
The tanker vessel, measuring 748 feet (228m) long and owned by a Greek Shipping Company, Navio, left Lagos, Nigeria, enroute Fawley Oil Refinery on Southampton waters.
The incident has become an embarrassment to Nigeria because the seven stowaways are Nigerians who boarded the vessel from Lagos ancourage.
They were said to have turned violent, threatening the life of the 22 terrified crew- members before the Captain of the ship called for help, after asking the crew members to lock themselves in the citadel of the ship out of the reach of the stowaways .
The ship had earlier been  refused berthing right in France and Spain, apparently to seek help, before the crew were rescued in England by English special forces who arrested and detained the seven Nigerian stowaways after 10 hours of  stand off.
This incident has raised a fundamental security concern at the nation’s seaports, especially the Lagos ports which is the fulcrum of maritime activities in the country.
We shudder at the laxity of security that could make seven stowaways successfully board a vessel at the ancourage.
However, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has said it had no record of MT Nave Andromeda’s visit to any of the Nigerian ports.
Engineer Adams Jato, the General Manager, Corporate Communications and Strategy, NPA, said their records and charts did not reveal that the vessel in contention visited any of the ports in Nigeria.
According to him, the vessel was neither declared in any of the ports nor apply for e-SEN (Electronic Ship Entry Notice) in the SEN offices of the NPA.
The agency’s spokesman also claimed that the vessel did not report her arrival to the NPA as it is the standard practice nor was it attended to by the NPA as the agency was not informed of its arrival.
So, NPA unequivocally denied ever capturing the vessel in its radar.
 We are puzzled by the position of NPA.
 If the NPA said the vessel did not berth at any of its ports, then where did it berth since the movement chart of the vessel clearly revealed it set sail from Lagos, Nigeria where the seven Nigerian stowaways gained access.
The possible explanation, for us, could be the Secured Achourage Area (SAA) in Lagos.
The Lagos SAA is located 10 nautical miles South-West from the entrance to Lagos Port channel.
So if the claim of the NPA is valid that MT Nave Andromeda did not call at any of the Ports, then the vessel could have taken off from the SAA which is 10 nautical miles away from the ports.
But this is not an affirmative statement but a speculative conjecture until official explanation from OMSL is given.
The SAA operated by the Ocean Marine Solution Limited (OMSL) has been very controversial as the NPA had consistently said it did not recognise the place.
It is a dedicated place where vessels wait before they enter the port channel to berth at the ports.
According to its operators, a 24/7/ 365 security is provided for vessels at this ancourage for a fee.
A Ship to Ship (STS) operations  are even allowed to take place in the zone.
Our worry is that since the NPA does not approve of the OMSL- operated SAA, all activities that may be going on there, may equally not be known to the port administrators.
We are further alarmed that if the STS operations are allowed and the NPA, which is supposed to keep a tab on such activities, said it doesn’t approve of such anchorage, then to us, this  is an open seseme to all manner of activities.
Despite all attempts of the NPA to pull down the SAA, the operators, with the backing of the National Assembly  and the Navy,  which incidentally midwifed the controversial place, the Lagos SAA is still thriving.
One of the reasons why the NPA, including the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, had stood against the Lagos SAA is its security implications.
It was inconceivable to concede the security of important national assets, such as the the ports and their approaches, to the whim of an individual operator.
Knowledgeable maritime experts even said such development doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.
It was the same reason the Nigeria Customs service, some years back,  swooped on the private jetties due to large scale unwhosome operations going on there.
The MT Nave Andromeda stowaways saga has further lent credence to the danger of conceeding security of the ports and their anchorages to  individuals as the case with the SAA being operated by OMSL.
The embarrassing stowaway incident has equally validated the position of the NPA that the SAA Lagos, as being managed by the OMSL,  is a recipe for security breaches.
If NPA is not aware of the activities at the SAA , since according to the agency, it does not exist in its own estimation despite the obstinacy of its promoters, then what goes on behind the cloak of the SAA?.
If STS operations are even encouraged at the SAA, then the situation potends danger to the security of the nation.
They are stowaways today, they could be terrorists or gun-running syndicates some other time.
This is why the OMSL’s silence, since the incident occurred, is no longer golden.
Moreso, after the NPA has said the vessel did not report to any of its ports and there are incontrovertible evidence that the said vessel set sail from Lagos.
How did the seven stowaways get access to the vessel?
We ask this question because, one, the NPA claimed the vessel did not call at any of the ports while the OMLS claimed it provides round the clock 100 per security at the SAA, the only viable place from where the vessel may have set sail.
We urge the OMSL to clear the air on this embarrassing incident as its continued silence will only fuel unwhosome insinuations.
As much as we are not passing any guilty verdict on the OMSL over this incident, more so as  it is still in the realm of speculation if the vessel ever passed  through its SAA, it will do the operators a whole lot of good  if they shed more light on the matter.
We also urge the Federal 
government to take more than a  passing interest in this matter as it is  not only capable of exposing the Achilles heel of our port security architecture but could  be a bad advertisement for the country’s quest to recapture its lost glory at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The government should therefore launch an investigation into the matter to unravel the true position of things.
This is more so when the vessel was said to have set sail from Lagos, Nigeria and the seven stowaways, who were arrested on suspicion of forceful attempt to take control of the vessel, are Nigerians.
The outcome of investigations, which the British authority has commenced, will help to either reinforce or weaken  the position of NPA on the undesirability of the SAA.
It will also afford the whole world to have a rare glimpse into the activities that are going on behind the thick cloak of OMSL -operated Secure Ancourage Area (SAA)

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