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As US Coast Guards arrive Nigeria, FG orders shutdown of ports facilities with security challenges

By The Citizen
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The Federal Government has ordered that any port and terminal facility across the country having security deficiencies be shut down following the arrival of officials of the United States Coast Guards in Nigeria to carry out security audit exercise on Nigerian ports Vanguard learnt.

Disclosing this fact to Vanguard the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Maritime Mr. Leke Oyewole said that any terminal or port facility that is found to have security deficiencies will be short before the arrival of the US Coast Guard officials who will begin their inspection exercise on Tuesday.

The  officials  of the US  Coast Guards will arrive Nigeria today to carry out an audit exercise of the security  deficiencies observed in some  ports and terminal facilities to determine their compliance level with International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.

Operators of such facilities were seen over the week end putting last minutes measures in place to avoid sanction. The U. S Coast Guard had observed on their first visit that Nigeria port facilities fall short of compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code hence a second verification exercise to test compliance level.

Already, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), which was appointed as the Designated Authority to midwife the implementation of the ISPS Code, has been collaborating with various stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime industry to ensure that there are no deficiencies in their facilities.

It will be recalled that the United States Government, about three months ago threatened to withdraw shipping services to Nigeria, if some of the security deficiencies observed in some facilities are not corrected within ninety days.

The United States had said it will stop vessels that call at ports and terminals with deficiencies in Nigeria from entering America territorial waters adding that it will encourage its allied countries to do same. Besides the moves by NIMASA to ensure compliance, industry operators have also expressed concern over Nigeria's preparedness to meet the ninety days ultimatum saying that the consequences of failing to comply will be very grave

Speaking at the end of its monthly meeting, some members of the Port Facility Security Officers (PFSO) Forum had said that vessels will now sail to neighbouring ports and Nigeria importers will be forced to take delivery of their cargoes from these ports. The officers who spoke on conditions of anonymity also said that non compliance with the Code will not only lead to loss of revenue to government, it will also lead to the loss of jobs at the various port facilities in the country.

Addressing the media last week, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi said that the agency encountered some challenges when it took over the implementation of the Code some of which include the expiration of all Statement of Compliance for Port Facility (a document that verifies how prepared a facility is to absolve security threat or challenges).

According to Akpobolokemi, the agency has taken up the challenge of Designated Authority with a view to ensuring that the country does not suffer the embarrassment of such sanctions as contained in the report. The NIMASA boss however disclosed that in a bid to correct the deficiencies observed in some facilities, an action plan was developed and immediately activated to aggressively close the reported gaps.

He explained that some of the efforts employed to close the gaps includes the dispatch of competent 'Recognised Security Organisation' to conduct security surveys and assessment aimed at identifying and correcting these deficiencies and any other observed vulnerabilities.

The action plan according to Akpobolokemi has also been commended by officials of the United States Coast Guard adding that it also pledged to support the effort of NIMASA

His words 'The action plan has been given a nod by the USCG and it has pledged to support the efforts of the DA in ensuring the issues raised are remedied.

'The DA has outlined its implementation frame work in the form of a handbook to enable the public understand its agenda with respect to the new implementation regime. The Management of NIMASA has since approved an ISPS Code implementation Committee to help oversee the implementation mandate'.

Aside from key NIMASA personnel who form part of the Committee, membership of the Committee are also drawn from other government agencies such as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Nigerian Police, State Security Service (SSS), the Customs and Immigration.

On the funding of the ISPS Code project, Akpobolokemi said that the agency will not require any subvention from government as maritime regulating body can take care of the financial needs of implementing the Code in Nigeria. It was also said that in order to establish the number, location and nature of operations of all port facilities in the country, NIMASA has also commissioned a stocktaking of the nation's coastal maritime assets.

This audit Akpobolokemi said will help the agency capture and catalogue all port and berthing facilities as well as verify their ISPS compliance status. All  port facilities including those mentioned in the U S diplomatic note to Nigeria are also currently undergoing security assessments as a step towards preparing plans that are ISPS compliant.

Minister of Trade & Investment, Olusegun Aganga

The agency, Vanguard gathered only recently concluded Verification Inspection Exercise (VIE) on all shore based port facilities in Nigeria. In order to address the issue of relevance and application due to the lack of understanding of the ISPS Code exhibited by security personnel that man these port facilities, NIMASA has also put measures in place to ensure more training and capacity building  for security personnel and operators  in the maritime industry.

NIMASA's Director-General, further disclosed that security companies providing guard force personnel to companies operating in the maritime are now required to provide ISPS training for their personnel adding that everybody has a role to play in the ISPS theatre.

The agency also stated that it was its responsibility to set or change security levels for port facilities just as it decided to work closely with the office of the National Security Adviser and other security agencies in determining operating security levels based on the evaluation of risks and trends. Akpobolokemi stated that incentives will be given to port facilities that maintain and sustain their compliance  over a period  of time just as sanctioned will be meted out to facilities that fall short of expectation.

Speaking to Vanguard on both the expectation of the Designated Authority (NIMASA) and the U.S Coast Guard, a security expert Dr. Ona Ekhomu said that NIMASA has adequate time to have prepared itself in ensuring that the observed deficiencies are corrected before the arrival of their guests. He however opined that he will be surprised if Nigeria as a country and the deficient port facilities fail to pass the audit adding that it was very important that the U. S Coast Guard gives Nigeria a clean report.

Ekhomu explained that beyond passing the audit test, sustainability of the entire security system in the port is what NIMASA should be considering at this moment. He advised that the only way to sustain the system, is for the facilities to regularly carry out  a self audit of themselves while NIMASA ensure regular verification and monitoring  exercise of these facilities.

'Sustainability will be an issue because passing this audit exercise is not enough, the tempo should be sustained for as long as possible such that with or without the presence of the U. S Coast Guard  our security situation must not fall below certain standard.

'The best way to sustain the tempo is to periodically carry out a self audit or a penetration test on your facility'. He explained that should Nigeria fail the test, then doing business in the nation's ports will be more difficult and expensive.

A former official of the defunct  Presidential Committee on the Implementation of Maritime Security and SAFETY )PICOMSS) Capt Abel Memuduaghan observed that the issue of  access control to some of these port facilities is a major problem adding that more measures are needed to be taken to control both human and vehicular movement in and out of these facilities.

The ex- PICOMSS official noted that NIMASA does not have the capacity to implement the ISPS Code adding the U. S Coast Guard knows what they are looking for. He said that since PICOMSS was wound up, there has been an increase in the issue of oil theft noting that when PICOMSS was in charge of the ISPS Code implementation the rate of oil theft was manageable.

Speaking in similar vein, Chief Chris Orode noted that after the first visit of the U S Coast Guard officials, there was a down turn in cargo traffic, adding that it will be disastrous both to the maritime industry and the economy should Nigeria fail to pass the verification test. He advised against a fire brigade approach to the implementation of the ISPS Code saying that 'such approach cannot stand the test of time. Vanguard