By Samson Echenim
Messrs HLSI Security Systems and Technologies is yet to begin the execution of a $195 million security contract it got from the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to secure Nigeria’s maritime domain, Rotimi Amaechi, Nigeria’s minister of transportation has told business a.m.
The minister told our correspondent during a shipping industry forum in Abuja that platforms and equipment meant for use under the contract were still being manufactured, adding that it would take some time to have the platforms delivered. He however hinted that the Nigeria Navy, Air Force and other agents who would man the platforms under the contract are currently being trained.
The $195 million maritime security contract was signed off by the Federal Executive Council in December 2017 and was for the provision of three helicopters, three air planes, three big battle-ready ships, 12 vessels and 20 amphibious cars, to aid security of Nigeria’s waterways.
In January 2018, the House of Representatives criticised the management of NIMASA for awarding the contract to HLSI, saying it was a breach of Nigeria’s internal security and defiance of the local content law.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in May 2018, cancelled the contract via a memo directing the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to terminate the contract and for the National Security Adviser and the Nigerian Intelligence Agency to investigate how the contractor obtained security clearance without an end-user certificate.
Buhari also ordered HLSI to supply equipment to the tune of the $50 million upfront payment it received from Nigeria. The Federal Government, however, reinstated the contract in August last year.
“The infrastructure that the security firm is purchasing are not things you buy off the shelf. They have to be fabricated. They are buying two or three helicopters. You don’t just go there and say, give me this helicopter, they have to manufacture it. They are buying 20 speed boats; they can’t be got off the shelf. There is also one or two big boats that will carry the helicopters. Now, the Naval, Air Force officers and other agents that will man those equipment are in training . All those things will take time, but we have told them that they should be on the waters before December. Everybody is tired. Nigeria is becoming very notorious,” Amaechi said.
While Nigerian importers are paying billions of naira for war risk surcharges, the minister confirmed that multinational shipping lines coming into the country are paying heavily to secure their vessels while at berth.
“If there is no insecurity in the water they (the multinational shipping lines) won’t charge you war risk surcharge. So, we have to improve on the security of the maritime domain. I don’t think the charges are deliberate. It is a risk they are bearing, with fear that something may happen, but most of the time nothing happens and they still go away with the money,” the minister noted.
Amaechi at a send forth party that marked the end of his first tenure as minister of transportation, held in his honour by maritime industry stakeholders, disclosed that global shipping giant, Maersk Line, spent a humongous $18 million to provide a private security on board its ship when they approached Nigerian waters.
Trying to justify the $195m maritime security contract signed between the Federal Government and an Israeli firm, HSLi Global, Amaechi said Nigerian importers were paying war risk surcharges for vessels to berth at Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri Ports as a result of piracy and activity of militants.
“Maersk Line told me that they were spending $18 million dollars as security on their vessels on Nigerian waters, I asked them, can I quote you on this, and they said yes.
“This is ‘free money’ going into the pockets of some powerful Nigerians at the expense of the country,” he said
Recall that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre rated the seas around Nigeria as the world’s most dangerous for piracy.
Of the 75 seafarers taken hostage on board or kidnapped for ransom worldwide so far this year, 62 were captured in the Gulf of Guinea, specifically off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon.
According to IMB, of the nine ships fired upon worldwide this year, eight were off the coast of Nigeria.
Amaechi has said that the illegal economy on Nigerian waters has hit a $25 billion mark yearly, adding that illegal bunkerers in Nigeria are the 7th largest producers of oil in Africa.
He however warned that whether the Israelis deliver on the contract or not, they would get their money and Nigeria would still be on the losing end.