By Samson Echenim
The company managing the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA), Ocean Marine Services Limited, has cried out against its being allegedly labelled by certain interests as a fraudulent private firm making money with platforms provided by the government through the Navy.
On the contrary, the company clarified in a statement that it built the SAA and provided special boats for the Navy to provide security in the area, adding that the little fees paid by ships are to cover for the cost of acquiring the platforms.
The SAA is a safe area in the water near the Lagos port, where ships coming to Lagos ports anchor while awaiting berth. Business a.m. can authoritatively report that the SAA was demarcated by a tripartite committee made up of the Navy, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in 2013 and the agencies placed public notices to inform shipping lines and other users of the existence of the zone meant to provide special services for vessels willing to anchor at the facility.
Investigations revealed that despite recent moves by the current management of NPA to dismantle the SAA, the area was demarcated by the three agencies of government, including the NPA, which also invited OMS, an indigenous maritime security company, with massive capacity in the waters. The security company, which is popular for bringing sanity to oil operations in the Niger Delta, also provides security at the bases of some oil companies.
In a published statement on Friday, the company also maintained, “We are not, have never been fraudulent in our operations since we entered into contractual partnership with the Nigerian Navy on maritime security.”
The company said the SAA is a child of circumstance created after a steering committee set up in 2013, by the Nigerian Navy, NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and other agencies of government that are stakeholders in the maritime environment.
“The committee held meetings for over five months to address the issues of security for ships in the Lagos waters. There were critical issues at that time, which included illegal arms importation, piracy, and robbery at sea, which were making Nigeria waters to be given the designation of “High Risk Area” (HRA) by International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
Before the arrival of SAA platforms, it was common practice for international vessels coming into Nigerian waters to arrive with hired mercenaries on board to provide security for the ship, her crew and cargo. The cost of one mercenary was $2,500 a day and the ships would carry three mercenaries for the whole voyage. They could carry three mercenaries for 30 days. The situation also added problems of bringing arms illegally into Nigeria. We are all aware of the arrest of a Russian ship with arms in 2012,” OMS stated.
“It is important to clarify that the patrol boats that are used in the SAA are 100 percent owned by Ocean Marine Solutions Ltd, but given to the Navy to man and operate. They were acquired by OMS to Navy’s specifications that they must have Navy colours, Navy call signs and operated only as Navy assets to give that service. In addition to providing the platforms, OMS also logistically support the platforms.
“It is very important to note that the SAA is situated 10 nautical miles offshore from the Fairway Buoy, an area which by NPA Act is clearly outside the NPA’s jurisdiction. This means that only the NIMASA has power of regulation over the SAA,” the company said.
According to the firm, the insecurity situation at the time affected shipping, with most of the shipments destined for Nigeria being redirected and discharged in Cotonou, Togo and Ghana, because of the situation in Nigerian waters.
The owners of SAA, Ocean Marine Services (OMS) Limited, which already had a relationship with the Nigerian Navy on the back of its partnership with the Navy to stem incessant attacks on International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in the Niger Delta, was invited to provide a similar service for ships waiting offshore Lagos waters for Ship-to-Ship (STS) transfer operations or allocation of berthing space at the ports.
“Leveraging on the success we had in the Niger Delta, the Nigeria Navy in 2013 invited us to the steering committee with all the agencies of government in the maritime environment to find a solution to what was happening to the Lagos roadstead. At a time, this meeting was moved to the NPA Headquarters in Marina, Lagos, chaired by the NPA. The committee met for over five months and after series of meetings and deliberations, came up with some solutions, which included the SAA,” the company explained.
OMS said the arrangement has been very beneficial to both Nigeria, the Nigerian government and the international shipping companies because they have confidence in the service.
“But, as time went on, a new regime in NPA appears to have misunderstood it saying they are collecting money due government, anchorage fees into their private pockets. The fee charged to ships that opt to utilize the dedicated security service offered in the SAA is not anchorage fee, but security fees. OMS is giving security and collecting stipends from the ships that use their service to cover for the cost of investment in the platforms and logistics and the international ships are happy to use the service and pay. Now, the crew can sleep with their eyes closed,” it stated.
It noted that contrary to NPA claims that its services were adding to cost and leading to compromise in national security, OMS has brought succour to international shipping lines coming to Nigeria.
“The allegation that SAA is adding costs to ships coming to Nigeria does not hold water. On the contrary OMS service is cutting down cost for ships coming to Nigeria. Rather, it is making cheaper because we all know that the value of ransom on kidnapped crew or hijacked vessel is better not imagined.
“OMS is contributing immensely to the economy. The SAA is also helping to cut the shipping lines overhead cost, because they will not need hire mercenaries to come here at over 300 percent of what we charge or more. They will not be tempted to bring in arms into this country. You recall in 2012 when a Russian vessel was arrested here with a catchy of arms, they were trying to protect themselves the company stated.